I’ve always loved mysteries and challenges. Since childhood I’ve had immense patience for jigsaw puzzles, puzzling questions, and trying to remember or figure out answers to bits of trivia. (Although not a lot of patience for much else, I’m afraid.)
And it’s not that I’m actually any good at remembering facts—in fact, I’m terrible. It’s the process of trying to figure things out and the potential of remembering something obscure, almost completely forgotten, that delights me. Especially if there has been a lengthy debate over a topic.
But is trivia dying?
It drives me crazy: hearing a song or having a conversation where the parties involved are trying to remember something—whether it’s the name of a ’90s song or a historical fact—and just as the collaboration of trying to figure out the answer is getting good, some spoil sport pulls out their smartphone and announces the answer like some kind of genius. (And I am not exempt from this—I have on many occasions turned to the Internet to find an answer to a trivial question only to close the browser with an anti-climactic feeling of “so what?” once the answer is so conveniently found.) Perhaps I’m the only one, but I like not being able to come up with the answer to a question, and then suddenly having it crop up once I’ve forgotten about trying to figure it out.
One could argue that trivia nights in bars and Trivial Pursuit still keep the prestige of having a repository of miscellaneous knowledge alive and well, but that’s not the same. Sure, I like a rousing game of Trivial Pursuit as much as the next person (if the next person loves it, that is), but there’s something a lot more satisfying about coming up with answers in every day life—especially to the stupidest things.
And there’s also something fun about being blissfully wrong and arguing it at length, humbled by defeat if the consensus doesn’t go my way. When I hear that I’m wrong thanks to the Internet’s answer, I feel indignant and insulted, and there’s no real logic to that. There is also no longer any honour in maintaining a prolonged dispute—the really fun kind that could go on for weeks and requires immense dedication.
I’ve never had a smartphone and only recently got an iPad, and the sense that I can be connected to the Internet and whatever answer I want with just a Wi-Fi access point saddens me a bit. Yes, knowledge is power, but now that I find myself looking things up all the time, I have to wonder: am I retaining any of it? Are any of us? And is any of this important? And is it really power? If the Internet disappeared, what would we know and how would we react? Mass panic, no doubt.
Memorization has become drastically deemphasized in school curriculums. Our grandmothers would have had to memorize poems, but there’s hardly any requirement for that now. My British grandma is a former secondary school librarian, and one of my favourite stories that she told me (and I may be misremembering the minutia here) was of a time that she was working in the library and a group of girls were sitting around a table not really working as they were supposed to. When my grandma went to talk to them, something came around to how much she knows, so one of the girls reached behind her, pulled a book of poetry off a shelf, turned to a random page, named the poem and then my grandmother proceeded to recite it to a stunned response of “Mrs. Till, do you know what’s in all of these books?”
I’m sure my grandmother was quite pleased with herself. I sure would be. And no, we can’t know what’s in all the books. We can’t know any significant portion. But on the other hand, if we try to remember, instead of resorting to quick answers, perhaps we’ll realize that we know more than we thought.