Do you love Google? I love Google. I spend my entire digital life nestled inside its tech-utopian arms. Other people love Google too. We, as a species, love Big G so much that we have promoted it from noun, to both adjective (Googley) and verb (to Google). Honestly, I can’t think of any other company with such grammatical importance.
If you are similarly smitten then I have a dire warning. You are in danger right now. No, not physical danger. It’s a slower and more sinister type of danger like global warming.
At the root of our perilous situation is a meme. A nasty little mind virus, it spreads from host to host via mental contact.
Here is the meme: all knowledge is only a Google search away. You don’t know how to make brownies? Google it. You don’t know how to train a dog? Google it. You don’t know how to be happy? Google it.
This meme has given birth to us, a generation of instruction followers. Don’t get me wrong, we are the gosh-darned best instruction followers the earth has ever seen. However, without a step-by-step formula, I would get lost in the complexities of brownie baking. No jokes.
One night, I ate a particularly good home-cooked meal. It was a traditional Vietnamese meal of rice noodle in soup (a.k.a. pho). Wanting to make it myself, I asked my mother for the recipe. She explained it to me but the instructions were vague. You boil the chicken, add some vegetables, a dash of fish sauce and voila.
The next time she cooked, I decided to watch. What a revelation.
Me: “What did you just throw in?”
Her: “Oh a bit of ginger.”
Me: “Why did you not include that in the instructions?”
Her: “I forgot.”
Here is the revelation: there is a world of knowledge that cannot be captured in written or verbal instructions. Try describing how thinly to slice ginger, or how to gauge when the chicken is done boiling, or even how often to stir the noodles (not too often! They break apart and become soggy).
We are a generation that is stuck on Betty Crocker and Ikea furniture. A digital generation. The generation of Google.
But the world isn’t digital. We must confront reality and the messy analog world in order to master anything like cooking, drawing, and even programming.
In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the Robert Pirsig says how there are infinite ways to assemble IKEA furniture. Someone just picks one and records his particular process as step-by-step instructions.
I’m not sure how to get back to the world of learning by experimenting, trial and error and just plain doing it over and over again until you get it right. Maybe I just need to fail a couple more times at self-education.
The explosion of online learning is great but how do you learn something that has no roadmap?
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