Not Wonder-ful

I wonder

Last weekend I had the most unusual experience. I wondered about something, for 24 hours.

Right after I shut down the computer and the iPhone on Saturday evening in preparation for my TechFreeSunday (not to be confused with SuckerFreeSaturday,) it occurred to me that I didn’t really know the meaning of the word “discursive.”

The thought just popped into my head, apropos of absolutely nothing. I had a vague sense that it meant talkative, or dismissive, but my normal course of action in that situation – to quickly type in “What does discursive mean?” to the Google search bar and receive 1.98 million answers in 0.31 seconds – was not an option. And I felt a little unmoored, standing there in the kitchen thinking that I was using discursive wrong.

Of course I could have gone to my trusty maroon Merriam Webster paperback dictionary in my office, but I suddenly thought, “When’s the last time I wondered ANYTHING?” And I decided to just stew on it instead.

Seriously. We have become entirely used to knowing everything, all the time, immediately. Nothing is a mystery anymore. What’s that movie that John Cusack was in, you know with Minnie DrivGROSS POINTE BLANK! What time is it right now in Abu Dhabi9:36PM! Who was the bass player for NirvanKRIST ANTHONY NOVOSELIC II, AND HE WAS BORN TO CROATIAN IMMIGRANTS AND WAS INFLUENCED BY DEVO!

It’s awesome, and a little scary. The awesome part is that you don’t walk around for days or weeks or months not knowing the answer to your questions, like when I was a kid in the ‘70s, because if it didn’t exist in the cream and gold World Book Encyclopedia set in the study nook, it was pretty much impossible to know. When I want a recipe that uses rutabagas and potatoes, I don’t have to read all the cookbooks I own and maybe still come up short – I can get a bajillion ideas with one web search, and my crisper doesn’t become a Tomb of Root Vegetables. I can find out an exchange rate or a zip code or approximately how much a new hot water heater is going to set me back. All good.

But the scary thing is that our kids have very little need to wonder anymore. Want to find out what the vedas are for the unit on Ancient History in 6th grade? Google it. Want to know when Jeanne Birdsall is going to publish the next book in the Penderwick series? Check her web site. Want to know the answer to your math question? Type it into the Google search bar when Mom’s not looking (otherwise you’ll get busted.) There’s so little opportunity to stare into space, a little overwhelmed, and think “I just don’t know, and I’m not even sure where to start.”

I suppose this great sharing of knowledge and information means that we spend less time as a society reinventing the wheel and more time focused on those important issues that we truly don’t have the answers to: climate change, immigration policy, how to create meaningful school reform. Answers to those problems are going to require a lot of wondering.

But will our future problem solvers – aka the kid sitting at her homework desk right now Googling “Ideas for experiments for science fair”- have enough experience at Not Knowing to do the job? At understanding that feeling completely unmoored and fumbling around in the dark may be exactly what’s needed to find a tricky or non-obvious answer to a hard problem?

I wonder.

By the way: discursive means “covering a wide field of subjects; rambling.” Welcome to my blog, Midlife DiscursiveTape.

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  1. says

    Great post. And the bar bet is dead to anyone with a phone now.
    Lots to ponder while unplugged. We should all remind ourselves of this. I’ll just make an entry on my calendar…

  2. Deb Dockery says

    I sometimes long for the days when everything was closed on Sundays or even experience a few short black outs every now and again.

    • says

      I lived in Germany back when stores closed at noon on Saturday and didn’t open again until Monday morning. I hated it, until I learned to love it – that freeing feeling of “Well, nothing I can get accomplished for the next 36 hours so I may as well read/see a movie/take a nap.” It’s kind of nice when someone else forces it upon you.

  3. says

    my husband and I just talking about this, mostly because he asked me something and I looked at him when i didn’t know and said, well you have your phone, look it up, or better yet, just ask someone on Twitter..which he did and had an answer in about 30 seconds.

    Sometimes I really wish for some real down time. I try, every weekend, to just step away from my phone, tablet, computer etc and live, shop and not account for every second of my life during it. Checking in, blogging it, posting to FB…does anyone really care that much about what another person is doing? Or maybe we do.

    thank you for writing this…reading it, I was reminded that technology is great..knowing things is great, but so is the down time, the quiet.

    • says

      Well I’m about a month into Tech Free Sunday and it’s gotten progressively easier. Two things I’ve figured out – I have to leave the phone function on my cell phone in case of emergency, since no one calls the land line anymore. And I have cheated every single Sunday, once, around 4 pm, by checking email. Every time I do it I wish I hadn’t – nothing there worth breaking the vow over. But overall I have to say – it’s not as hard as I thought it would be…

  4. says

    You are right on the money with this post. Wondering is a marvelous thing. I absolutely think today’s kids are missing out by never having to wonder. Or wait. Or do without. Unplugging is a great idea but is likely to be resisted more than embraced. Well thought out post!

  5. Alison says

    I thought I’d read an article that said the internet will evolutionarily shrink our brains but I couldn’t remember where — so I did a quick search and found an article in Men’s Health about how it can shrink our brains right here, right now — not just generations from now.

    So, there. Glad I could dig that up instantaneously all the while listening to the dulcet tones of Mr. Isaak.

    Thanks, lady, right on.

  6. says

    We just watched “War Games” with our kids, in which cyberwhiz Matthew Broderick (he was cuter before he met SJP, just saying) needs to find answers to various things, which he does by using THE CARD CATALOG and MICROFILM and the PHONE BOOK. My children were stunned at l.p.g (life pre google). I hate it, this insta-knowing, even though I succumb to it all too often. What happened to staring into space, to pondering, to mull in a non-wine-or-cider context? Where does imagination go, when “everything” can be found, all the time?
    Although one should *always* know what time it is in Abu Dhabi. Easy answer in California: 12 hours opposite to you. :)

  7. says

    Brilliant post. And I love your optimism that all the time that’s freed up by easy access to information is being dedicated to the noble pursuit of remedies to society’s more complicated challenges. I love hearing that because I had assumed it was being spent keeping up with those three hairy sisters and learning to do the Dougie. But then I’m a cynic. 😉



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