I recently read an article highlighting the 150 or so things definitively smart people worry about. Actually, I didn’t finish reading it. I got bored by number thirty-one, mostly because I didn’t understand some of the answers and others seemed designed to make me feel stupid. Yet others questioned the question and a couple actually made me giggle. I started skimming after the reminder of small apocalypses. I worry about those all the time, I don’t need a reminder smart people are worrying about them as well.
The list, produced by an the online magazine called Edge—which has been described as smartest website in the world–has been condensed for better digestibility by Vice and begins with: The proliferation of Chinese eugenics, the concern of evolutionary psychologist, Geoffrey Miller. In the first instance, I had never heard of evolutionary psychology. I think I can nut that one out, though. In the second instance, I had to look up eugenics. The word was familiar and in certain context, I might have caught the meaning. Here? No. Thankfully, I have the internet. Right, according to Wikipedia:
So, wild guess: Mr. Miller is concerned about the (a) practice of genetic manipulation in China? I could be completely off the mark, but assuming I’ve hit the edge of the dart board, I sort of understand the concern. Genetic manipulation could produce some viable nightmares. There are moral issues, sure. It could also produce some pretty fascinating advances in health and medicine. From a writer’s perspective… There are too many ideas to write down. I’ll forget them all before Evernote opens. There is a full explanation of the answer available at Edge. Given I barely understand the concept, I’m not sure I’d understand the rest, however.
Am I being deliberately dumb? Not really, I’m just being lazy, and that’s another worry dictated by the list.
W. Daniel Hillis, physicist, is concerned search engines will become “arbiters of truth” and, according to David Gelernter, a computer scientist from Yale, the internet is ruining writing. David Rowan of Wired is worried about “data disenfranchisement”. These distillations are from Vice, and thank goodness for them. I’d not have made it through the first page of the original article.
The internet gives a good portion of us instant access to just about anything. Before the kettle boiled, I had a half-way decent definition for eugenics, and before I finished my cup of tea, I had written about 400 words about stuff I don’t really understand. The other side of the equation, however, is that the bulk of the content available is written by folks like me (except most of them probably know what eugenics means). So, how do we know the facts we’re finding are good? We cross reference. If two or three sources agree on a definition, then you’re probably safe. Besides, a fourth click is likely to lead you to a kink you’ve never contemplated and you’ll have to deal with that for the rest of the evening instead of what you originally intended.
I did sit down to write this ramble with a point in mind. I read the article for a couple reasons, the first being mild interest, the second being an eagerness for new ideas. There are 150 books waiting to be written there. Fictional works, of course. I wouldn’t understand the non-fiction variety. Reading with a dictionary by one’s side is very slow. I also wondered if any of my worries were on the list. They were.
I am concerned the internet is ruining writing. With anyone and everyone being able to upload rambles, there are a lot of ill considered words out there. Bloggers are being paid by clicks and sometimes their content is pasted together from different sources with a question rounding out the beginning and the end. Magazine journalism (and the rates at which we used to be paid) is suffering as a result. Real ideas are being stifled by condensed snippets. But, sometimes the snippets help us understand the longer articles, direct us to places we might not normally go. It’s a circle (vicious or not).
I am concerned that the supreme court allows citations from Twitter and Wikipedia. I love Wikipedia. As a writer, I reference it almost daily. I try to confirm the facts, however. I click those little numbers and look at the sources. I read other websites. I haven’t found any glaring errors but most of the stuff I research is pretty boring. (Sawmills in the fifteenth century? Indoor plumbing in medieval Europe?)
Remember that game Chinese Whispers? You sit in a circle and pass a whispered phrase from ear to ear. The words and meaning rarely survive. Sometime the results are hysterical and completely absurd. Surfing the internet, tracing information from site to site, can be a bit like playing Chinese Whispers.
I am concerned about my reliance on spell checkers. I worry I am becoming a lazy speller, relying on that little red underline to highlight errors. Sometimes I challenge myself. I go back and correct the word manually. Sometimes I just right click and let Word do it for me. Sometimes I don’t even notice the error. Word catches it the moment I press the space bar. And, sometimes I baffle the dictionary. But, and this is the reason my reliance on spell checkers doesn’t keep me up at night, sometimes I discover new words. Then I try to use them.
Compared to the full list, my worries are small. They’re pretty dumb, actually. I could worry about the larger things, the intelligent things, but then I might not have time to enjoy the fact I am alive, healthy, happy and doing what I love. I’m a lucky person and I am thankful for it. I’m not the only one. I’ll leave you with Terry Gilliam’s answer, which is brief and wonderful:
“I’ve given up asking questions. l merely float on a tsunami of acceptance of anything life throws at me… and marvel stupidly.”