A Certain Lack of Focus

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Wangston's Law

Earlier today I was listening to Weekend America on NPR. There was an interesting segment, a short amusement driven piece, about something called Wangston's Law.

Wangston's Law states that: Humans should not waste their time discussing any question that can be answered by a robot (google, wikipedia, etc.)

This "law" is actually invented by some guy (not named Wangston) who pulls it up at parties whenever he thinks the conversation is too mundane. I guess it's an interesting idea. His point, I think, is that we should focus our energy on higher pursuits and let the matrix handle the easy stuff.

matt with three computersThe way I see it, we should take the opposite approach. In these days where (relatively) accurate information is available, from anywhere, within seconds, it seems like a shame to not find out the answers whenever you can. If the thought: I wonder... ever enters your head, why aren't you typing it into a toolbar window? In a way, both ideas are promoting the same thing. Wangston's law wants us to work on a higher level mentally, and so do I. Only I think the best way to enrich our brains is to fill it with as much information as possible. We really have a ways to go before we run out of room.

Matt and I actually have a rule to that effect. Whenever one of us says "I wonder" we try to write down the question and look it up later. When I get an iphone the later part will go away (Matt's got a smartphone but often questions occur to us while he's driving). The extremely obvious theory behind the rule is that if we do this, we'll learn new things all the time. We don't follow it perfectly, but we've already learned many things we never would have known. For example:

Dolphins sleep with half their brain at a time.

Swallows mate in flight.

The movie Apollo 13 did all the null-gravity scenes the same way astronauts train for it: steep diving airplanes.

Will any of this information ever come in handy? Who knows. If it's so easy to find out though, why shouldn't I try to know more than I did yesterday? True, useless information is not particularly helpful, and in some cases it might actually be harmful. I see a big difference though, in filling up on unnecessary information for the sake of knowing it (as with rote memorization) and learning things because they interest you. Obviously the things Matt and I look up do interest us, or we wouldn't be asking the question. So I want to propose that the rule Matt and I (sometimes) follow should be another law, to counteract Wangston's Law.

Wanker's Law: Humans should take advantage of the ease of information provided by robots (google, wiki, etc.) whenever a question arises.

Why Wanker's Law? Because it all comes down to mental masturbation. Humans as a group won't follow either law. Individuals are generally not motivated to learn. We love to discuss over-discussed topics like who won American Idol, because it's easier than contemplating the mysteries of life. Meanwhile we're far to lazy, intellectually, to type every question into google. It's not that pushing the buttons is too much work, it's just that we aren't used to exerting the effort of keeping a question in our mind long enough to look for the answer.

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