There was once a time that I knew everything. Okay, I thought I knew everything. We all did at some point. But my hunger for knowledge, the absolute need for an answer, began when I was roughly six or seven.
My mother will never let me forget how attached I was to the several Guinness Book of World Records I had, or how I would walk around incessantly spouting mouthfuls of useless knowledge. I remembered every little fact that I came across and kept it on the front most part of my brain to share with any passers-by, whether they cared to hear it or not.
I could recite hundreds – maybe thousands – of meaningless facts on demand. But the moment I was asked a question I didn't have the answer to, my entire world was temporarily flipped upside down. If I didn't know the answer to a question off the top of my head, I had no way to immediately look up the answer.
Keep in mind, this was at least four years before I had an Internet connection at home. And even after we upgraded to home Internet, taking the time to look up something was borderline insane. It took at least 10 minutes for the computer to fully boot, to connect to the Internet and wait for a Web page to load. If you weren't going to be on the computer for hours, it was hardly worth the wait for the startup.
I'm not even sure if I had access to the Internet at school back then either, or at the public library. And dial-up speeds were so slow, I probably could have saved myself quite a bit of time by actually digging out and dusting off an encyclopedia. You know, those hard cover books with actual pages … made of real paper.
Without begging my grandfather to let me use his Internet, there was no hope in finding the answer. It required prying him away from his genealogy work to use what few hours of allotted Internet usage he had (that's right, my first Internet connection was gauged in time, not consumption) to find the answer to a question that probably shouldn't have mattered to me in the first place. Alas, when I could, I would fire up the Britannica Encyclopedia he had on CD and look for what seemed like hours.
Sometimes I would find my answer. But more often than not, I would come up empty handed.My only logical option was to accept defeat, acknowledge that I didn't know everything. This happened more than I cared to admit.
Luckily, this is not the case anymore. Millions of people around the world don't leave their houses without an always-on Internet connection in their pocket (or hand). And an endless vat of knowledge is just seconds away at any given time.
These days, no question goes unanswered around me. My phones and tablets are loaded with applications that are chock-full of information, or are tied to information databases. For all my film knowledge, I rely in IMDb. For factual information or complex math problems, I turn to Wolfram Alpha. I have at least two dictionary/thesaurus applications on both my phones. Poynt is for business and restaurant lookup. There are weather applications, just in case, too.
More than any of those, though, the most simple application of all gets more use than any other: Google Search. I guarantee I Google search from my phone at least 25 times every day. A lot of the time, I'm simply looking for some article or a Website. But the very moment something comes up in conversation or in passing that is unbeknownst to me, I usually have the answer and am reading it within seconds.
I know you're probably thinking, "Duh, Taylor. What's your point?" I have one. I promise. I'm getting there.
Yesterday, I was in mid-conversation with a friend when he used a rather big word. I had no idea what it meant. Before he had even finished his sentence, I had my phone out, had typed the term into Google Search and was reading its Wikipedia article. If a TV show or article drops a reference I don't understand, I'm on the same page and laughing along in a matter of seconds. In under a minute, in almost any situation, I know essentially everything I need to know to move forward.
Point being, if I were to be without my phone or even the Internet, I would be lost. I would feel as if I didn't know anything at all. And that's a scary thought. As much of a companion as my smartphone is, it's also a giant crutch. I could retain all the things I look up – most of the time I do … partially. But I also only retain as much as I have to, because if I need to know more, I know my phone and Google are only split-seconds away.
Not knowing. It's a chilling thought.
Tell me, readers. Do you immediately – literally, that very second – start looking something up if you don't know what it is? A word if you don't know its meaning? A reference if it soared over your head? A fact if you don't know it's true? Or do you just let it slide?