Nancy Davis Kho

Nancy Davis Kho
Oakland, California, USA
April 30
I'm a writer, a reader, a bike wife, a mom, and a music fan. And they don't call me Aunt Blabby for nothing. I figure if half of you are laughing WITH me and the other half AT me, we're all still laughing. I look forward to finding out which side you're on.

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FEBRUARY 8, 2013 10:10AM

Not Wonder-ful

Rate: 5 Flag

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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technology, parenting

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Interesting post that's well worth pondering. I often wonder if I now know more because of the easy access to answers or if I just forget more.
Having lived in the pre- and post-internet worlds, I do often wonder (!) how it has changed me, and if it has fundamentally altered those who don't know any other way.

Great essay.
Google still refuses to take a definitive stand on "What is the meaning of life?"
Great post! Since the Big Bang of cyberspace happened, I feel like I spend more time wondering what's important and how to get focused. I love the idea of Tech Free Sunday...sounds really healthy!
Maybe it's old-guy-think, but a lot of what passes for information on the web is wrong or contradictory and written by folks like us who are getting paid five bucks an article. Could you call it mis-cursive? I wonder.
Hah! Good post.

You know, I recently had to learn a bunch of math, and let me tell you that the internet made learning bunch of math sooooo much easier than the first time I tried it back in the early 90s.

I can remember in college that it would be 2 a.m. and I couldn't figure out calculus or whatever and if you couldn't piece it together from class notes and the book you were screwed. And I was often screwed.

But now? Now there are dozens of websites happy to explain limit theorum, and if THAT doesn't get you over the hump there are dozens of youtube videos of people explaining limit theorum.