In Praise of Information

as opposed to Fruitless Pondering.

Don't get me wrong, I love the occasional fruitless ponder.  But one of the things I don't understand at all about the anti-technology sentiments of many parents is the idea that somehow looking things up online is bad, that a more authentic response to questions is to just - I don't know, passively muse on them?

Looking things up is good.  Looking things up is how you learn.  And it's how your children will learn, too, if you let them.

Several of my Facebook friends today posted links to "Mom's iPhone Rules For Son," a set of guidelines a mother gave her 18-year-old son before giving him his own phone.  There are many reasonable pieces of advice in there, but this one struck me as absolutely absurd: "Wonder without googling."

Don't you remember in school when your teachers would tell you to stop and look up a new word in the dictionary whenever you encountered one?  Or when they taught you to use an encyclopedia? So why does this not apply when the dictionary or the encyclopedia is digital and not print?

A few days ago I started thinking about yeast and bread - how was yeasted bread discovered? Where and by whom?  How does yeast work chemically? And so on.  So I looked it up.  I spent about an hour and half online reading and now I know a ton about yeast (go on, ask me).  What if instead I had just said, "Huh, yeast - that's weird," and left it at that?

Sure, a kid might come to a few interesting conclusions about yeast on his own.  And maybe a few of the very brightest kids would concoct independent experiments on yeast.  But most kids, like most adults, would think about it for a minute and then move on, because that's how most people's brains work when they have no information to kickstart their thought processes.  Yes, some truly ineffable things (life, death, justice, love) may be best pondered in the silence of the heart.  But simple factual information about bread is not one of them.

My daughter is too young to read, but whenever she asks me one of those typical toddler "why?" questions and I don't know the answer or can't clearly explain it, I say, "Let's look it up online together," and then we read about amphibians or watch a YouTube video on how to make glass.  Actual information about glass-blowing seems to me far more valuable and interesting (and educational) than fruitless low-tech pondering.