We hate to admit we don’t know things. Not just important things but small things. When someone asks us if we’ve heard of a particular artist, we say, “I think so.”
Even a simple question like that makes us nervous. What are we afraid to admit? Knowledge is power, and apparently, lack of it is weakness.
Everything we need to know is at our fingerprints. Ask me what year an album was released and I’ll tell you to give me a minute. I can find out. Not knowing is not fun.
We don’t need to know anything by learning it anymore. All we need to know is how to look something up. Being able to answer a question quickly means somehow that we have information. Except that information isn’t in our brain and we are not likely to remember it past the end of the day.
When I asked a class of teenagers this week how long slavery existed in the United States, I was met with shrugs and nervous faces. There was no phone in sight, just empty stares.
One student finally said… “50 years?”. On a different day, I asked to know the number of hijackers that participated in the September 11, 2001, attacks. The closest guess I heard was the number four. It’s scary to acknowledge that we don’t know what we don’t know. But we can’t recognize this because society frowns upon it.
When did it become uncool to want to learn something new? When we travel, go to museums, even eat at a new restaurant, we are blinded by the light from our own phone. We think we are capturing information because we are taking photos of what we are seeing, but we are not stopping to read, to listen, to take anything in.
We don’t look at anything for more than a few seconds. Stop wasting everyone’s time by reading signs or analyzing building structures. Stop being such a nerd. That’s the message we are sending to each other. It’s cooler to pose in front of a statue, but when we get asked whom the figure is memorializing, we get caught by surprise. “It’s some old dude from way back.”
On the seventeenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, I realized that teenagers were the first generation to have been born after that terrible day. They only know what they heard in the distance or might have seen on YouTube.
The rest they make up through assumptions and feelings. They don’t know what they don’t know because they think they know everything. But then, maybe so do we as adults.
Maybe we should bring back the Know-Nothing Party of the 1840s? It was a real thing. Don’t believe me. Google it. You’ll feel like a genius.