LOL (or WOL)

 

Americans, like a majority of people on the planet, now walk around with the equivalent of the Library of Congress and an old-school, room-sized supercomputer in our back pockets. An inquiry that once involved perusing the annual publication listing all published magazine articles (remember that?) or scanning miles of microfilm, or even just picking up an encyclopedia … now merely requires us to ask Siri.

And so this, the present age is revealing the real obstacle to human progress: not the absence of sufficient information, but our own, profound lack of curiosity and/or common sense.

For instance: City Hall officials in Newark, NJ, admitted last week to falling for a fraud. They’d been inveigled into declaring the Hindu nation of Kailasa as Newark’s Sister City. The mayor and his staff apparently did not do something as simple as … Google.

Admittedly, Kailasa, has a website describing itself as the “greatest Hindu nation on Earth.” Perhaps city officials, or their staffers, having been educated in Newark’s public schools, were accustomed to taking a website as proof of material existence. And maybe they often encounter references to nations they’ve never heard of (for all I know, they’ve never heard of Mauritania or Paraguay either).

As it turns out, the imaginary invention that identifies as a country was created by Indian cult leader and accused rapist Swami Nithyananda (he/him) who claims he can see through walls. Whereas, the Mayor of Newark couldn’t even see through him.

In January, at the same City Hall beside whose doors lounges a 700-pound statue of the undershirt-clad George Floyd, Newark hosted the fake country’s fake delegates at a heartwarming ceremony in which people clad in totally-convincing kurtas and turbans, with honest-to-Krishna dots on their foreheads, signed an agreement of enduring and familial partnership.

“I pray that our relationship helps us to understand cultural, social, and political developments and improves the lives of everybody in both places,” Mayor Ras Baraka said at the time. One can only hope his prayers are answered.

Published in Foreign Policy
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  1. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    GrannyDude: Americans, like a majority of people on the planet, now walk around with the equivalent of the Library of Congress and an old-school, room-sized supercomputer in our back pockets.

    At a time when people have more access to information than ever, people do seem to be getting more and more ignorant. Well at least they can  still have Wakanda as a sister city.

    • #1
  2. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Vance Richards (View Comment):

    GrannyDude: Americans, like a majority of people on the planet, now walk around with the equivalent of the Library of Congress and an old-school, room-sized supercomputer in our back pockets.

    At a time when people have more access to information than ever, people do seem to be getting more and more ignorant. Well at least they can still have Wakanda as a sister city.

    Wakanda is a country, duh!

    • #2
  3. DrewInWisconsin, Oik Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Oik
    @DrewInWisconsin

    GrannyDude:

    Americans, like a majority of people on the planet, now walk around with the equivalent of the Library of Congress and an old-school, room-sized supercomputer in our back pockets. An inquiry that once involved perusing the annual publication listing all published magazine articles (remember that?) or scanning miles of microfilm, or even just picking up an encyclopedia…now merely requires us to  Ask Siri.

    And so this, the present age is revealing the real obstacle to human progress: not the absence of sufficient information, but our own, profound lack of curiosity and/or common sense. 

    I’ve been meaning to write on this topic for a long time now. And now you’ve beaten me to it.

    Dangit!

    I shared in the PIT recently how, if my family is sitting around having a discussion about something, and a question arises, my mother-in-law will immediately pull out her phone and “ask Siri.”

    I finally told her to stop doing that. That immediate answers are conversation-killers. Instead, take time to talk things over, draw on each other’s knowledge, spend some time wondering about the topic. In this way one subject leads to another and a good conversation can be had. If you get the answer to the question immediately, the conversation stops dead.

    It’s just one of many ways we’re losing our sense of wonder. Our curiosity, as you say above.

    And since things like wonder and curiosity are the things that lead to discoveries, innovation, civilizational advancement, . . . the loss of those things are heralds of the beginning of a new dark age.

    Years ago I heard a “dark age” described as having developed the technology to do things, but not bothering to do them anymore.

    In context it was a discussion about our lack of exploration of space. “We used to be able to go to the moon, but we just kind of stopped bothering.”

    But I think that applies in a lot of ways. I think about architecture, and the sort of beautiful buildings we used to build. But now we build ugly brutalist structures that evoke Soviet-era parking garages.

    At some point in the not-too-distant past we just stopped advancing. We just stopped achieving real progress and instead opted for progressivism, which is plainly regressive. For all the money supposedly being spent on infrastructure, we’re letting infrastructure fall to pieces and we have fewer and fewer people who know how to rebuild it.

    That’s only tangentially-related to my mother-in-law, but see how one thread of thought led to another? Siri prevents this from happening!

    My mother-in-law is resistant when I slap the phone out of her hand, but she plays along good-humoredly.

    • #3
  4. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude
    @GrannyDude

    DrewInWisconsin, Oik (View Comment):

    GrannyDude:

    Americans, like a majority of people on the planet, now walk around with the equivalent of the Library of Congress and an old-school, room-sized supercomputer in our back pockets. An inquiry that once involved perusing the annual publication listing all published magazine articles (remember that?) or scanning miles of microfilm, or even just picking up an encyclopedia…now merely requires us to Ask Siri.

    And so this, the present age is revealing the real obstacle to human progress: not the absence of sufficient information, but our own, profound lack of curiosity and/or common sense.

    I’ve been meaning to write on this topic for a long time now. And now you’ve beaten me to it.

    Dangit!

    I shared in the PIT recently how, if my family is sitting around having a discussion about something, and a question arises, my mother-in-law will immediately pull out her phone and “ask Siri.”

    I finally told her to stop doing that. That immediate answers are conversation-killers. Instead, take time to talk things over, draw on each other’s knowledge, spend some time wondering about the topic. In this way one subject leads to another and a good conversation can be had. If you get the answer to the question immediately, the conversation stops dead.

    It’s just one of many ways we’re losing our sense of wonder. Our curiosity, as you say above.

    And since things like wonder and curiosity are the things that lead to discoveries, innovation, civilizational advancement, . . . the loss of those things are heralds of the beginning of a new dark age.

    Years ago I heard a “dark age” described as having developed the technology to do things, but not bothering to do them anymore.

    In context it was a discussion about our lack of exploration of space. “We used to be able to go to the moon, but we just kind of stopped bothering.”

    But I think that applies in a lot of ways. I think about architecture, and the sort of beautiful buildings we used to build. But now we build ugly brutalist structures that evoke Soviet-era parking garages.

    At some point in the not-too-distant past we just stopped advancing. We just stopped achieving real progress and instead opted for progressivism, which is plainly regressive. For all the money supposedly being spent on infrastructure, we’re letting infrastructure fall to pieces and we have fewer and fewer people who know how to rebuild it.

    That sounds like a completely different and totally worthwhile OP, DrewInWisconsin!

    • #4
  5. Misthiocracy has never Member
    Misthiocracy has never
    @Misthiocracy

    GrannyDude:

    Americans, like a majority of people on the planet, now walk around with the equivalent of the Library of Congress and an old-school, room-sized supercomputer in our back pockets. An inquiry that once involved perusing the annual publication listing all published magazine articles (remember that?) or scanning miles of microfilm, or even just picking up an encyclopedia…now merely requires us to  Ask Siri.

    And so this, the present age is revealing the real obstacle to human progress: not the absence of sufficient information, but our own, profound lack of curiosity and/or common sense. 

    Counter-argument: What percentage of the population has ever conducted research by perusing the Library of Congress?

    There has always been vastly more information available than can actually ever be used by more than a few people.

    • #5
  6. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    DrewInWisconsin, Oik (View Comment):

    GrannyDude:

    Americans, like a majority of people on the planet, now walk around with the equivalent of the Library of Congress and an old-school, room-sized supercomputer in our back pockets. An inquiry that once involved perusing the annual publication listing all published magazine articles (remember that?) or scanning miles of microfilm, or even just picking up an encyclopedia…now merely requires us to Ask Siri.

     

    I’ve been meaning to write on this topic for a long time now. And now you’ve beaten me to it.

    Dangit!

    I shared in the PIT recently how, if my family is sitting around having a discussion about something, and a question arises, my mother-in-law will immediately pull out her phone and “ask Siri.”

    I finally told her to stop doing that. That immediate answers are conversation-killers. Instead, take time to talk things over, draw on each other’s knowledge, spend some time wondering about the topic. In this way one subject leads to another and a good conversation can be had. If you get the answer to the question immediately, the conversation stops dead.

    It’s just one of many ways we’re losing our sense of wonder. Our curiosity, as you say above.

    And since things like wonder and curiosity are the things that lead to discoveries, innovation, civilizational advancement, . . . the loss of those things are heralds of the beginning of a new dark age.

    Years ago I heard a “dark age” described as having developed the technology to do things, but not bothering to do them anymore.

    In context it was a discussion about our lack of exploration of space. “We used to be able to go to the moon, but we just kind of stopped bothering.”

    But I think that applies in a lot of ways. I think about architecture, and the sort of beautiful buildings we used to build. But now we build ugly brutalist structures that evoke Soviet-era parking garages.

    At some point in the not-too-distant past we just stopped advancing. We just stopped achieving real progress and instead opted for progressivism, which is plainly regressive. For all the money supposedly being spent on infrastructure, we’re letting infrastructure fall to pieces and we have fewer and fewer people who know how to rebuild it.

    That’s only tangentially-related to my mother-in-law, but see how one thread of thought led to another? Siri prevents this from happening!

    My mother-in-law is resistant when I slap the phone out of her hand, but she plays along good-humoredly.

    I think I just read the post you would’ve written but Granny beat you to it. I received an email from someone that included a date that she would be available. Siri popped up and asked me to include this date on my Google calendar. I don’t use that and never have. 

    • #6
  7. DrewInWisconsin, Oik Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Oik
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Misthiocracy has never (View Comment):

    GrannyDude:

    Americans, like a majority of people on the planet, now walk around with the equivalent of the Library of Congress and an old-school, room-sized supercomputer in our back pockets. An inquiry that once involved perusing the annual publication listing all published magazine articles (remember that?) or scanning miles of microfilm, or even just picking up an encyclopedia…now merely requires us to Ask Siri.

    And so this, the present age is revealing the real obstacle to human progress: not the absence of sufficient information, but our own, profound lack of curiosity and/or common sense.

    Counter-argument: What percentage of the population has ever conducted research by perusing the Library of Congress?

    There has always been vastly more information available than can actually ever be used by more than a few people.

    Back in the pre-Google days, conversations with friends over esoteric subjects would sometimes result in us calling the local library’s information desk to see if they could answer questions for us. The “Siri” of its day. I doubted then that they got much business. I suspect they get even less today. What a cool job, though.

    I also remember our curiosity about the “Knights of Pythias” and whatever they were, because we found an old building in town that used to be a “Knights of Pythias” hall. We ended up calling the “Knights of Pythias” number in the phone book, and when an elderly lady answered, we peppered her with questions about who the heck the Knights of Pythias are. The lady was very confused by our questions, finally answering “It’s a fraternal organization!” (in my memory, she sounded exasperated by our questions).

    And that was how we got answers back then. Right to the source! Or a source.

    It was certainly more fun than going to a website and reading some boring text.

    • #7
  8. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    I sometimes think that having instantaneous access to so much information contributes to our lack of wisdom and real knowledge. We think because we have the information we know what’s going on.

    My ancient somewhat esoteric analogy is my engineering professor father’s experience teaching in the early 1970s as portable electronic calculators were just coming to mass market. Students would write down answers with no concept of whether the answer made any sense. [Come on, do you really think the train is going to stop in one hundred feet? Do you really think 120 pounds total force on a dam is a sensible answer when the dam is holding back hundreds of acre feet of water?] Even more irritating to my father was the students who wrote down to seven or eight significant figures (number of digits in the answer) provided by the calculator when the input data had at most one or two significant figures. A calculated answer can never be more accurate than the input data. But because the electronic calculator displayed seven or eight digits, students assumed that level of precision in the answer. 

    • #8
  9. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude
    @GrannyDude

    Misthiocracy has never (View Comment):

    Counter-argument: What percentage of the population has ever conducted research by perusing the Library of Congress?

    There has always been vastly more information available than can actually ever be used by more than a few people.

    Sure. But one would imagine that the staffers of a fairly large American city would be among those who could be expected to consult, y’know,  their plain old library? 

     

    • #9
  10. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    I mentioned computer-gaming in my post:

    We are still Learning…

    I have a couple of things to say about that topic that will fit here. I think the level of interest and participation by American young people shows interest, skill, intelligence, and a competitive spirit that has lost its direction. There are still many in this group who have broadened their knowledge with factual historical information that will benefit them. But how many are skipping those processes? We need these people taking important roles in the changing direction of America.

    • #10
  11. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    GrannyDude: Americans, like a majority of people on the planet, now walk around with the equivalent of the Library of Congress and an old-school, room-sized supercomputer in our back pockets. An inquiry that once involved perusing the annual publication listing all published magazine articles (remember that?) or scanning miles of microfilm, or even just picking up an encyclopedia…now merely requires us to  Ask Siri.

    But people seem to forget that Siri doesn’t know anything that hasn’t been “scanned from miles of microfilm” at least once.

    • #11
  12. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Misthiocracy has never (View Comment):
    Counter-argument: What percentage of the population has ever conducted research by perusing the Library of Congress?

    Well, I have. Who cares about the rest of you zombies?

    • #12
  13. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    • #13
  14. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Misthiocracy has never (View Comment):
    Counter-argument: What percentage of the population has ever conducted research by perusing the Library of Congress?

    When I was in the sixth grade, us kids used to spend many hours during the summer months in the Library of Congress.

    But we were just there to smoke cigarettes, which Jimmy Shaw used to steal from his mom’s purse.

    So for what it’s worth, I can provide no evidence for Americans actually conducting research there.

    That does not prove that they don’t, of course. We deliberately hung out in the Dewey Decimal System #840 section, I think it was, the one for Classical Poetry written in the Centúúm language, specifically because there were so few other Americans there.  So there could have been a large portion of the population conducting research, but in other stacks.

    [EDIT: To clarify one of the historical details contained in this story: every word of it is a complete fabrication. Other than that, it stands on its own merits. –Camper]

    • #14
  15. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude
    @GrannyDude

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Misthiocracy has never (View Comment):
    Counter-argument: What percentage of the population has ever conducted research by perusing the Library of Congress?

    Well, I have. Who cares about the rest of you zombies?

    Me, too! As a teenager, I spent hours in the stacks (I had a stack pass…very cool!) doing research for my father’s magazine. It was my vacation job—summer, Christmas, spring. We called it the Family Sweat Shop.

    • #15
  16. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude
    @GrannyDude

    Sheeesh, @MarkCamp, when were you in sixth grade? I might have been a few stacks over, digging through tomes on Norway’s Role In NATO or something.

    • #16
  17. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    GrannyDude: An inquiry that once involved perusing the annual publication listing all published magazine articles (remember that?)

    The Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature.  I still have nightmares.

    • #17
  18. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    DrewInWisconsin, Oik (View Comment):

     

    Dangit!

    I shared in the PIT recently how, if my family is sitting around having a discussion about something, and a question arises, my mother-in-law will immediately pull out her phone and “ask Siri.”

    I finally told her to stop doing that. That immediate answers are conversation-killers. Instead, take time to talk things over, draw on each other’s knowledge, spend some time wondering about the topic. In this way one subject leads to another and a good conversation can be had. If you get the answer to the question immediately, the conversation stops dead.

    It’s just one of many ways we’re losing our sense of wonder. Our curiosity, as you say above.

    And since things like wonder and curiosity are the things that lead to discoveries, innovation, civilizational advancement, . . . the loss of those things are heralds of the beginning of a new dark age.

    Years ago I heard a “dark age” described as having developed the technology to do things, but not bothering to do them anymore.

    In context it was a discussion about our lack of exploration of space. “We used to be able to go to the moon, but we just kind of stopped bothering.”

    But I think that applies in a lot of ways. I think about architecture, and the sort of beautiful buildings we used to build. But now we build ugly brutalist structures that evoke Soviet-era parking garages.

    At some point in the not-too-distant past we just stopped advancing. We just stopped achieving real progress and instead opted for progressivism, which is plainly regressive. For all the money supposedly being spent on infrastructure, we’re letting infrastructure fall to pieces and we have fewer and fewer people who know how to rebuild it.

    That’s only tangentially-related to my mother-in-law, but see how one thread of thought led to another? Siri prevents this from happening!

    My mother-in-law is resistant when I slap the phone out of her hand, but she plays along good-humoredly.

    Going straight to an answer also loses the serendipity effect of stumbling across other things while you’re looking.

    Taking up a lot of space in my home office right now is a complete set of the 1967 World Book Encyclopedia, salvaged from my mothers house after she died in 2021.

    Nobody wants it, the used book stores won’t even take it for free.  But I can’t bear the thought of just tossing it in a  dumpster.  I spent an unbelievable number of hours paging through it when I was a kid, just reading whatever looked interesting.

    And then my friends wonder why I’m so good at trivia.

     

     

    • #18
  19. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    DrewInWisconsin, Oik (View Comment):

    And since things like wonder and curiosity are the things that lead to discoveries, innovation, civilizational advancement, . . . the loss of those things are heralds of the beginning of a new dark age.

    Years ago I heard a “dark age” described as having developed the technology to do things, but not bothering to do them anymore.

    In context it was a discussion about our lack of exploration of space. “We used to be able to go to the moon, but we just kind of stopped bothering.”

    I think it’s more “decadence”.  We stop doing new things and just re-hash the old.  It’s why our pop culture consists so heavily of remakes/reboots of old established concepts instead of original work.

    • #19
  20. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    DrewInWisconsin, Oik (View Comment):

    And since things like wonder and curiosity are the things that lead to discoveries, innovation, civilizational advancement, . . . the loss of those things are heralds of the beginning of a new dark age.

    Years ago I heard a “dark age” described as having developed the technology to do things, but not bothering to do them anymore.

    In context it was a discussion about our lack of exploration of space. “We used to be able to go to the moon, but we just kind of stopped bothering.”

    I think it’s more “decadence”. We stop doing new things and just re-hash the old. It’s why our pop culture consists so heavily of remakes/reboots of old established concepts instead of original work.

    And because some people think, for what it costs to go to the moon ONCE, we could give everyone on Earth an iPhone 15 or something.

    • #20
  21. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    And so this, the present age is revealing the real obstacle to human progress: not the absence of sufficient information, but our own, profound lack of curiosity and/or common sense.

    Nailed it!!
    I told my teen grandkids that I used to make notes in pencil in the back of library books (angered a librarian one time when I forgot to erase everything) or in a small pocket notebook so on my next trip to the library or with our home encyclopedia I could look up the names of battles, historical figures, metaphors, literary references and words I did not know.  They did not think it weird to not have ready internet access to answers but why I cared about that kind of thing at all.  Their world is “content”.  Common sense is not gone but largely replaced by a cynicism about being marketed or spun and a survival instinct not to trigger the woke outside of trusted friendship circles.

    • #21
  22. DrewInWisconsin, Oik Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Oik
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    Common sense is not gone but largely replaced by a cynicism about being marketed or spun and a survival instinct not to trigger the woke outside of trusted friendship circles.

    Cynicism about being marketed to or spun is certainly not a modern thing. It’s apparently one of the hallmarks of Gen-X. (I tend to think it’s what keeps Gen-X sane.) And Gen-X is the last generation to have come of age in the world before the internet.

    • #22
  23. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    I think it’s more “decadence”. We stop doing new things and just re-hash the old. It’s why our pop culture consists so heavily of remakes/reboots of old established concepts instead of original work.

    Yes. The history of remix culture is interesting. At first, in the late 90s, it was fresh and ingenious, sampling high-profile riffs and licks and vocals, integrating them into a new beat or groove or vibe. But the next wave of artists lacked the ingenuity of the first wave – more parasitical than inspirational. The rise of synthetic music pushed the instrumentalists to the margins. 

    There’s an electric car commercial I keep seeing on Amazon Freevee, and it attempts to get its retro cool mood from a late 90s remix of an Elvis Presley song. We’re now supposed to be nostalgic for the bygone, carefree days when deconstruction and repurposing was a new thang, as if that digital chop-shop job was the equivalent of four guys in a Texas garage inventing rock and roll. 

    • #23
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