I recently went to the library and took out a book that was all about diamonds. It smelled like learning, it felt like knowledge, it read like self-betterment, and it let me understand something. Learning has evolved past the need to sit in the stacks and turn pages and that is quite alright with me.
You see, I learned about cut, clarity, color, and caret and I learned about historically significant stones, but I didn’t lean a lick about modern creation techniques or how they keep a now common stone at luxury status. Why was that? Because the only book in the entire library about diamonds was published in the 1980s.
And when I had further questions the book didn’t offer easily followed paths for further exploration. It didn’t offer hyper-linked references. Instead, I had to track down material that was out of print and out of date and I soon lost any desire I had for further learning.
But Prisma, you might say, that is not something that has a rich and ever-changing history nor is it something vital for education. That is valid. Unfortunately, this experience made me recall most of my text books growing up. I had a history book in 2008 that hadn’t included the first Gulf War. I had a science book in 2012 that still had Pluto as a planet. I had Psychology references for a paper that required at least four non-internet sources that were written based on the DSM III.
Not only was the material out of date but so were the references. Teachers filled in and corrected material with Powerpoints if they were aware of the evolution of the subject but in the end anything I learned from these sources were not trails of learning but dead ends. So it should come as no surprise that I was a fan of any teacher that acknowledged the greatness of Google and the worth of Wikipedia.
When I finally opened myself up to these tools I hit a golden age. I could answer most if not all of my questions while finding new queries along the way.
For example: I loved Sailor Moon. I watched every episode and read the manga, I even owned the few novelizations they made of the first few episodes. I knew the lore. Or so I thought. Did you know that things get changed when they are dubbed for an American audience? Gay couples become cousins or change genders, names are changed, scenes get cut or edited to adapt the cultural references, and entire seasons just get left out. Yeah, there was another season of my favorite show that I was completely unaware of. I spent nights clicking my way through fan pages and wikis answering my questions.
My thinking went: if this is true for something like Sailor Moon, what aren’t they telling in these road block books that I could uncover? It was like that moment in math where they teach you about negative numbers and you realize they were lying before when they said bigger numbers couldn’t be taken from smaller numbers. There is more to learn than what is in the book you are told is the source for what you need to know.
But folks, I can’t be completely pro-internet learning anymore. No. For it has smothered my desire to broaden my knowledge. Now, if I read a pretty comprehensive source online I’m not looking to fill in gaps, I’m not looking for contrast because a decent online source tries to be the comprehensive stop for an internet explorer. I’m left feeling complete. My immediate question has been answered. My primary question is covered. And since I don’t have to compile the answer on my own or trace sources to the real answer I am not exposed to most of the material that would lead to further questions and further exploring. The synthesis of material has effectively become a different roadblock, not to the answer but to future questions.
I am worried about myself. I am losing my inquisitive side. I am content with the information readily available. I am rusty at conclusion making, hypothesis brewing, connection discovering, and information seeking. I’m not used to working for knowledge anymore. Easy answers are leading to fewer questions. And I might be the worse for it.