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