I’ve been thinking lately about how much information is good for a person to know. For example, I’m not sure I need to know that one Facebook friend has a cold, another is answering email, and another is visiting churches (or was, whenever she last updated—information I did not absorb). I can’t imagine that anyone cares that I was up early this morning (my own most recent Facebook update). Of course, none of this is news anyone actually has to remember, so it’s easy to read and dismiss. The stuff that is really messing me up is the information that is supposed to stick, like when the kids are due to see the dentist or when the cookie dough fundraising form is due. I have to remember to water the plants and turn down the heat before we leave for Thanksgiving, not to mention stopping the mail and the paper, booking the dog in the kennel, and making sure he is up to date on his shots first. All these little things I’m expected to remember seem to be cluttering the closets of my brain. Recently I realized I had to write a list of online user names and passwords for the ridiculous number of accounts I have because I just can’t keep straight anymore whether the credit card that I pay online has the six letter password or if that was the company from which I purchased my domain name. (I also realized that if I died suddenly, our banking and bill payment history would be a total mystery to my husband.) So I wrote out the list and hid it in a brilliant hiding place that no thief is likely to discover. Except now I have to remember where I hid it whenever I forget a password.
This may have something to do with the aging process, but I have a sneaking suspicion my leaking brain is also a sign of times when our brains are constantly bombarded with stuff we don’t need to retain anyway. Who cares that I know the Nestle’s chocolate chip cookie recipe by heart when I’m sure I could find it online in a click or two. I don’t need to remember many of the things I do remember, like the date Nixon announced his resignation, or the Zulu word for hello. A friend who is a teacher and the parent of an eighth grader remarked that she was more interested in high schools that taught students to think than to memorize information that they could look up anyway. I agree, but as a college teacher myself, I think it is hard to teach people to think outside of a general base of knowledge. It’s not just that my students don’t know names and dates from history; they don’t know the big picture either. In the age of Google, how do we distinguish information from knowledge?
A quick search for the word knowledge shows that there is no agreed on definition of knowledge, but that the word implies something about understanding. It seems to me that knowledge somehow brings more value to our lives than information. It’s the stuff we don’t forget so easily, whether it’s a sense of history’s importance or the knowledge of how a friend is really doing. Maybe that’s why I can’t help glancing at people’s status updates whenever I’m on Facebook, even though most of them are silly. I am happy to know that one friend has finally made it to Zambia, after years of waiting. Another friend is sharing the news of her engagement. This kind of information does seem important because it helps me feel connected to people and helps build community, off line as well as on.
Among the things I don’t want to forget as we prepare for thanksgiving are the many blessings for which I am grateful. Sometimes they slip through my mind as easily as my Target user name, but they are among the things that are worth remembering.