On Ignorance and Information Search

I’m not a person who takes not knowing lightly.

If someone asks me a question and I’m unable to find the answer off the top of my head, chances are good that within the next few minutes, armed with a computer and a good internet connection, I’ll find the answer to that question. Of course this is assuming it’s a question that intrigues me enough for me to do so (but then again simply not knowing something often intrigues me enough to push me to find its answer).

I find ignorance a chosen state; in general, people do not not know something not because they’re stupid, but because they’ve never had a need or want to find out what that something is. Motivation’s seriously understated in education. Teach a man to fish, and if he’s not hungry he may not learn. Teach a man hungry to learn to fish, well, that’s another story.

For me it’s not so important to remember any of the actual facts that I’ve looked up as much as it is knowing how to look up that fact in the first place. For example, I have no idea what’s pi to its 8th decimal, but I do know that if I searched for pi in Google or Bing I’d be able to find out (it’s 3.14159265).

I can think of at least two reasons for placing teaching how to learn and search for information before teaching facts (something most schools are only too guilty of).

Firstly, information search is so much faster and vastly improved now with the advent of the internet and search engines like Google, making the skill of remembering lots of facts redundant — you don’t need to remember a fact you only need to use once or twice as searching it up may well be faster than the time it takes to burn it into memory; and secondly, because many facts in life are dynamic and may have changed since you first learned it (e.g. when I was in school Singapore’s population was at about 3.3 million; it’s over 4 million now, and may have changed by the time you read this).

I’ve always harboured a slight distrust of people who utter the words “I don’t know”, and will always be wondering at the back of my mind whether or not that person had attempted to find an answer. I urge you to never use those words unless absolutely necessary (e.g. if your child asks you what your neighbours were doing in the back of that shaking car). If possible, always answer a question to which you don’t know the answer to with a “I’ll find out” or “I’ll get back to you on that”. And do.

As for what WERE the neighbours doing… I’ll get back to you on that.

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