Back in 1986, during my last year of high school, there was a radio trivia contest to win tickets to a concert. I didn’t have much money, but I really wanted to go see this particular group, so I sat myself beside the radio one Monday morning, phone in hand, and waited. Now, my head has always been overflowing with completely useless information –probably more so at that time in my life– so I knew I stood just as good a chance as anybody else. Finally, they asked the question: “What was David Bowie’s theatrical rock-star persona backed by the Spiders from Mars?” I dialed as quickly as I could, but I was not the first, and so didn’t win the tickets. For three more mornings, I did the same, each time knowing the answer, but failing to be the first to call. On that Friday, however, the question was much harder: “Whose band did Canadian singer Gowan borrow for the recording of his Strange Animal LP?” This time I won the tickets.
I was proud of my accomplishment, elated by that vindication of the sheer width and breadth of the mostly impractical data stogged tight into my brain. It seems a little foolish in retrospect, but the accumulation of knowledge was –for me– the most distinguishing facet of my self-identity.
Back then, information was far less transitory. I remember reading and studying endlessly, trying to retain every nugget of information I could, whether it was useful or not. Now, I have become lazy. When a question is asked and I don’t know the response, a quick search on the Net will generally take me directly to the right information. The question answered, the details then drop away from my mind, and I usually forget it completely. I suspect most people do this nowadays, relying upon the Net far more than memory. When someone dials a friend from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, are they really choosing their most knowledgeable friend, or simply the fastest with Google? Who would you phone?
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