Today’s lack of accidental knowledge

Written by

Andrew Millar


July 6, 2010

Yes. Too much information is actually a bad thing.

Now I’m not talking about someone describing their dog’s particularly inappropriate bowel movement. Or a medical procedure using rubber hoses and a torch. Or a couple of close friends insisting you watch the video of their child’s birth, complete with closeups and live sound…

No. I’m actually talking about the drawback this generation might experience because there is so much ‘on demand’ entertainment/information available that they are becoming extremely well versed in their immediate world, to the detriment of an understanding of the whole world.

To explain I need to set the scene. I need to go back to my childhood.

Picture our back room when I was 12… 4 Scandinavian inspired chairs, some dead relatives dark furniture, green curtains, a very modern lamp that I now think is hideous, a coffee table we were not allowed to put our feet on… and one television. Yes, for everyone born after 1975, there was a time between John Logie Baird’s* ‘Ah ha’ moment and the present day when there was only one television in a house… not one in every room, but one in the house. (I actually remember when our first television was delivered to our home. I asked the guy in the grey overalls what he was wheeling on his hand truck but he wouldn’t tell me. The funny part was it was delivered mid afternoon but we had to wait until 4 o’clock for the stations to begin to broadcast to see whether it worked or not. Television was not 24 hours a day then…)

So when we all sat down to watch, my brother and I had to watch what our parents were watching. And our information was their information. Our knowledge base was 30 years older than we were. So at 13 I knew about about Whirling Dervishes, Hitchcock, World Wars, Symphony Orchestras, Namatjera, Hillary, Gauguin, Einstein, Edison, Stravinsky, Gandhi, Lloyd Wright, Picasso, Caruso, Callas and Christ.

While none of those made it onto the walls of my bedroom. That place was reserved for the culture of my time… Dylan, Donovan, Hendrix and McCartney…

My point is we knew both Lennon and Lenin.

We learnt by accident, absorbing information we ordinarily would not have looked at.

Today I observe, is different. There are so many media inlets into the home everyone can please themselves and watch exactly what they want to watch, when they wanted to watch it. Cable TV, free to air, digital TV, radio, iTunes, DVDs, IQ boxes, TiVOs, internet, SMS, and email that it is possible for every member of the household to exist in their own world. 24/7. The concept of waiting for 4 o’clock is beyond a joke.

There is no family gathering. I’m not talking about ‘an imparting the wisdom of the elders’ – but sharing that can lead to what farmers call ‘cross bread vigour’.

For example. Someone’s favourite program might be ‘Everyone loves Raymond’ – and it is only an example because it’s a bloody awful program of carefully scripted lines, typecast racial stereotypes and formula humour, but the credits are nice. I use it for illustration purposes only. It is possible to watch it constantly on Foxtel, recording and DVDs. And when you know them off by heart there are so many similar programs that follow that formula you can live your whole life in ‘Yankee Situation Comedy Land’ only emerging for meals and matters of personal hygiene. (Please don’t combine the two to attempt to save time.) You progression would be to Seinfeld or Malcolm in the Middle, Arrested Development, Scrubs, How I met your Mother, Rosanne, Two and a Half Men, Home Improvement, Cheers, Frasier, The Nanny, Friends, The Simpsons, The Cosby Show and The Modern Family. Your picture of the world would be very clouded with Jewish guilt and canned laughter.

While I use sitcom as an example, this discussion applies to any thread of interest anyone might have. Music, cooking programs, fitness, manga, sport… there is so much available.

To sum up my point: because all of everything is now very much available to everyone, my fear is we will become ignorant to everything else in the world. There is no cross flow. Younger people are growing up without any spillover knowledge.

I went to a school debate some time ago and a student quoted Gough Whitlam. You could see she had no idea of who she was talking about. Her Dad had written it. I’m not saying Beyonce will never say anything quotable, I just think so much information available along narrow streams will actually make this generation Gaga about the rest of the world.

Andrew Millar

*There are many that say Baird shouldn’t be credited as the invention of the television. He had an idea that was mechanical and therefore not practical. Philo Farnsworth (a name equally as silly) actually was the pioneer of the electronic system we use today.