I have the type of brain that collects useless trivia the way a clothes dryer screen attracts cotton lint.
I’m assuming, of course, that it would be better to have a high-functioning brain full of useful information, but I wouldn’t know. I will say that having a head stuffed full of trivia has its own minor rewards. For example, I once won a pair of tickets to the short-lived Las Vegas Grand Prix because I was the first to call in and answer a radio DJ’s question, which I can’t remember now, but I do know the answer was Jackie Stewart.
I’m also a worthy opponent whenever I play certain games — Jeopardy!, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Trivial Pursuit and You Don’t Know Jack (that’s right, boys, your mother is still the reigning You Don’t Know Jack champion and don’t you forget it).
There was even a time when my talent for trivia made me socially desirable. Whenever people got stuck in the middle of a conversation because they couldn’t remember some random fact, such as how many husbands Elizabeth Taylor had (she was married eight times but had only seven husbands — she married Richard Burton twice), they’d pick up a nearby phone and call me. As a result I’d receive phone calls from family members, friends, friends of family members, co-workers, former co-workers, friends and family of co-workers and former co-workers, as well as complete strangers, asking me something.
And I usually had the answer.
I didn’t realize it then, but those were the salad days (a phrase first used by Shakespeare in "Antony and Cleopatra," later used to memorable effect by the Coen Brothers in "Raising Arizona"). People needed me and you know how it is — people who need people are the luckiest people in the world (lyrics written by Bob Merrill, made famous by Barbra Streisand although Andy Williams and Ella Fitzgerald, among others, recorded the song as well).
And then came The Google.
I still received occasional calls when people didn’t have immediate access to their computers. But with the advent of the smartphone, the calls have pretty much stopped. I have been replaced by The Google.
My friend Karen and I discussed this over lunch recently. Her kids asked what people used to do when they didn’t know the answer to something before Al Gore invented the Internet. Besides calling Ann Cannon.
This is what Karen told them: Imagine you’re having dinner with your family and somebody asks where a certain athlete played college ball. Did he play for Florida (mascot: gators)? Or did he play for Florida State (mascot: politically incorrect Seminoles)? Someone might say he played for one school. Someone else might say he played for the other school. They’ll argue a bit and then drop the subject until somebody discovers the answer a few weeks later and shares the information at a subsequent dinner.
That’s how we did it back then. We were willing to live with not knowing.
Sometimes I think the instant access we now have to so much information makes us impatient with uncertainty. We want to know what we want to know, and we want to know it RIGHT! NOW! We don’t want to take leaps of faith. We don’t want to practice patience. We’re entitled.
Is this a good thing?
In spite of our best effort, much of life remains uncertain. Will I find someone to love? Is this a good location for my business? Will the kids be OK? Will I still have a job? Will the money run out? Will my knees last? And what about my shoulder?
We’ll eventually know the answers, of course.
But only over time.
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