On his return from a vacation in Canada, a US attorney was asked by his dad, who barely finished elementary school, if he visited ‘Ottawa’, Canada’s capital? The attorney said no, that he didn’t visit the city. He didn’t tell his dad the whole truth; he had never heard of the city. Also a few months ago, a reporter conducted an impromptu interview in Harvard where he asked some students to name the capital of Canada. Only a Canadian student knew the answer. It appears Ottawa is not the only obscure capital. Miss USA made headlines recently when she couldn’t name the capital of her home state, Nevada.
Growing up, we were made to ‘cram’ our heads with Nigeria’s 30 states (now 36) and their capitals. A day in school would be incomplete without a chant of: Abia-Umuahia! Adamawa-Yola! Akwa Ibom – Uyo!…Yobe, Damaturu! Before GSM became popular, it was common to know up to twenty phone numbers by heart; it saved one the inconvenience of reaching for crumpled papers to make a call. Likewise, people had to pay attention when going to unfamiliar places or they would miss their way going back home. Now, Google, phone contacts and GPS do all the work for us.
Many of our parents could not afford dictionaries when they went to elementary schools. They compiled vocabularies in their notebooks and made time to visit the library (if they had one) to find their meanings. When I went to school, I too kept a ‘Words and Meaning’ book but it didn’t take a trip to the library to find their meanings; I had a dictionary. With smartphones and Microsoft Word’s synonym feature, I doubt that my little niece has need to maintain a vocabulary book. A click of the button will give her what she needs anytime, anywhere. With Auto correct, I don’t know if she would bother committing spellings to memory.
Could the ease with which we get knowledge make us value it less than our parents did? Severally, during episodes of Frank Edoho’s Who Wants to be a Millionaire my dad earned my respect when he got the correct answers to questions I, with a University education, had never encountered. Sometimes, I need a dictionary to find the meaning of some words he uses. I guess people who waited days and walked miles to find the meaning of ‘Lackadaisical’ are less likely to forget it than those who google it with smartphones.
Certainly, Google makes life easier. Technology does help us concentrate on more important things. It also enables us accomplish more tasks in less time. With a technology like Google, we work more efficiently with increased productivity. I can imagine how much more difficult it would have been to, for example, blog before the internet era. With Google, I simply take care of the substance of my writing and rely on technology to fill in the details; Wikipedia saves me from having to dust volumes of encyclopedia. The analogy can be applied to all areas of life. Truth is that the concerns being raised about this internet age must have been raised too when calculators were invented. If it is any consolation, a popular scientist(?) was reputed to not have known his phone number by heart. He said he needed his brain for other things.
However handy technology comes in making life easier for us, we must realize that there are still occasions when Google cannot come to the rescue. Job applicants still get asked current affairs in interviews and law students still have to commit hundreds of cases to memory to pass law school.
That said, we will make more effort to know our trivia if we can commit to memory (pun intended) the saying that knowledge is power. Still not convinced? Ask Jeopardy's Ken Jennings (US) and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire‘s Aroma Ufodike (Nigeria) and they will tell you that knowledge is also money.
On a lighter note, there is a hilarious scenario I see in the future. When Google’s self driven cars are finally produced in commercial quantities, I can see them impeding traffic (a ‘dulling’ I absolutely welcome) to the frustration of humans who seem to be programmed to habitually exceed posted speed limits. It will be fun to watch humans honk irritably at the robots which won’t give a damn because they (the driverless cars) are bereft of emotion and common sense.
Finally, having judged (I did) the subjects at the beginning of this article, let’s see how we will fare ourselves. Depending on whether you are in Africa or North America, do let me know in the comments section the capital of Cameroon or Mexico. As for me, I just googled to find the answers.