As J.R Tolkien once said: not all those who wander are lost. But what about those who wonder? I think we may have lost the ability. No sooner than someone raises a question, puts a thought to the floor, or ponders out loud, then six other want-to-know-it-alls have whipped out a phone, Googled, and found the answer on Wikipedia.
I have a confession. I am one of those people. I answer my own wonderings before I've even finished the thought. What happened to Peter Townsend after he was forbidden to marry Princess Margaret? I thought to myself, during an episode of The Crown. I was still scrolling through the British aristocracy of the twentieth century and poring over the Queen's family tree until the credits rolled. I probably missed a crucial scene in my keenness to discover the answer. "I wonder where the word penguin comes from?" Was another example raised over dinner. Two or three others present looked frantically for their phones, while the general conversation turned to the roots of modern language. A very interesting conversation was then promptly halted by...well, me, triumphantly declaring the answer like I was a contestant on University Challenge.
Where did this modern fear of not knowing the definitive come from? Do we worry we'll be shown up, owing to the ease of accessing this information? Fear we should just know more these days? After all, were you to have the same 'pondering' dinner conversations pre-smart phone, or even pre-internet, and you would have been dragging an encyclopedia off a dusty shelf or booting up Encarta to find the answers. No-one had that kind of determination. We just had to make it up, unless someone in front of us happened to know the facts, in which case they were treated like a regular Sherlock. No one worried about having all the answers. Wondering was a nice warm blanket.
Also, wondering, like wandering, leads down paths you might not have found otherwise. Those seemingly silly or obscure questions lead to random thoughts and conversation, rather than the 'I know I know!' Hands-up please-miss-I-know-the-answer desperation of Being Right. There are no points or prizes for getting to the answer before anyone has a chance to hazard a guess. It's a bit like arriving to a party, drinking all the booze, popping all the balloons and leaving. Metaphorically (and sometimes literally) the intellectual party pooper, closing down conversations wherever we go.
Technology has allowed us to be more connected to knowledge, and that is no bad thing. It's a relatively new phenomenon, but I still marvel at how used to access we've all become. Look! I can see a map of all current hurricanes! Yes! I do know how hurricanes are named! Of course! I can pinpoint the New York MoMA in five seconds! I know! I can go inside and look around on Google Earth!
There is criticism that our proximity to information has created a generation of pseudo-intellectuals, that know everything, and nothing. Commentators lament the death of old school homework, where one had to turn to the elders, or learn how to use an index for the seventeen encyclopedia editions we all had in our bedrooms, or even, shock, visit a library, to locate the answers we needed. But I believe that this is just a new way of learning. Access to knowledge is a brilliant thing, something that is still really only relevant to those of us fortunate to live and learn in a wealthy society. Many British children have iPads at school and at home, and there has been much said about how it is fostering a lazy generation. But is it really? Yes these children have to work less hard to locate answers, but what a world they have to explore. I think it's amazing that my friend's toddler can look at live videos of animals in the African safari parks, or teenagers can immerse themselves in the worlds of their favourite bands, go behind the scenes, see their personal photos, hear new recordings, while my generation had to make do with Smash Hits magazine and the Spice Girls Annual.
But perhaps, while our love affair with the internet is still relatively in its infancy, we're all still in the rose-tinted, can't-get-enough-of-you stage. We're just a bit keen. We just need to back off a bit. Play it cool. Stop jumping on the answers like we're on QI. Carrie Bradshaw 'couldn't help but wonder' so much that she made a living out of it. We're trying to avoid wondering so hard that we're getting whiplash from pulling out our phones so fast. I've had to keep my phone at a distance of at least 10 feet when I'm watching TV, otherwise I find myself mindlessly googling the missing pieces of a storyline or plot before I've had a chance to watch and decide for myself. And we've established a firm no phones at the table rule at House of Humphries, as Musical Dad and I are as bad as each other in trying to out-know-it-all anyone who dares to ponder.
Whilst we may think that our proximity to all the facts and explanations in the world is good for our brains, and yes, it may indeed broaden our understanding of the world around us, we should remember the words of Socrates, who had this decidedly pre-technology reminder: "to wonder is the beginning of wisdom." So instead of Googling more about the life of Socrates, I shall sit here and ponder, and see where it takes me.*
*Does asking Siri count?