I’m a sucker for instant gratification. Practically every time I’ve attempted to bake anything, I’ve eaten half the batter before it even makes its way into the oven. I don’t like waiting for paint to dry before I apply a second coat and I would rather shop in stores than online, bringing home my purchase to wear the next day — or the same afternoon.
And when I want to know something, I want to know it then and there.
We live in an age in which I can say quite confidently that I am not alone in my impatience. We are fast consumers — of not only goods, but of knowledge too. Think about it. You hear a song you like, you whip out your iPhone and “Shazam” the heck out of it. You download it quickly, and there it appears in your iTunes library.
You are writing a report, finding yourself using a rather redundant vocabulary, and so you pull up the thesaurus built into most versions of Microsoft Word.
Suddenly your paper becomes a scholarly sounding smorgasbord of what you deem to be sophisticated synonyms.
Can’t remember the name of that actor from that movie about the brain-eating aliens? IMDB’s got your back.
And don’t even get me started on Sparknotes.
Sure, they’ve saved me some trouble when I just “didn’t had the time” to read Thomas Hardy’s ever so delightful “Tess of the D’Urbervilles,” or couldn’t figure out what the heck Shakespeare was trying to say. But a tiny, scholarly voice in the back of my head chastises me every time I opt out of actually reading whatever fine work of literature a professor throws at me.
Technology, mostly the Internet, has provided us with an abundant wealth of knowledge — so much, that I find myself overwhelmed by it. I worry that in our haste to “know stuff” we are no longer learning anything.
In conversing with those of generations past, I find myself feeling like a worthless dolt. A blockhead, if you will.
My mother can school me in the trickiest grammar, bust out Latin phrases and complex color theory. My dad has tried to explain the ways of the stock market and the mechanisms of airplanes more times than I can count, and yet, I still haven’t absorbed anything. My grandfather could reference obscure bits of history of the world when I can’t even remember what I learned about the Battle of the Bulge last year.
The worst part about all of this, is, not to toot my own horn, I’m far from stupid. I’ve gotten good marks throughout my education. But the thing is I doubt if I can even call it an education.
I went to one of the best public school districts in the state of Pennsylvania and I’m attending one of the world’s top universities. But to be frank, it feels like everything I’m learning is committed to my personal well of knowledge for the same length of time it took me to attain such knowledge. In other words, I have the power to learn things instantly and yet I’m only retaining them for a fleeting length of time, and I’m not quite willing to peg it on a lack of short-term memory.
Personally I believe the fast paced world we live in is, in part, responsible for a shift in education and the way we learn.
Now, hear me out. I’m by no means suggesting that all young people are stupid and lazy and ignorant and unwilling to buckle down and soak up the world around them.
It’s just that, as convenient as Google is and as useful as Wikipedia may be, I feel that they are enablers of the strange change in the art of knowing stuff, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a change for the better. And to be honest, checking out your Facebook friend’s latest pictures or instant messaging buddies while you’re trying to study makes it difficult to do anything more than coast through your work, getting it done just to get it done instead of for the sake of learning.
The world is changing, but that’s nothing new. I only hope that our thirst for instant gratification can be turned into something greater, that we can take responsibility for our own education and that maybe one day, I won’t feel like such a worthless dolt and a blockhead.
Caroline Fenlin is a freshman majoring in graphic design and is the Daily Collegian’s Tuesday columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org