I wondered when the word “Google” became a verb. I didn’t have to wonder long, because I Googled the question: “When did Google be . . . ?” Of course, I didn’t have to finish typing the question because it promptly appeared in the drop down menu. Apparently, many others have asked the question before I did. Naturally, Google directed me to Wikipedia, our other main source of knowledge, which satisfied my curiosity by telling me that the transitive verb, “to Google,” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary on June 15, 2006. So now I know.

How smart we are

Google and Wikipedia are great in this way. If you have a question and want an answer to that question, just type in the beginning of that question and your smart device will take it from there. Voila. Perhaps before too long, you won’t have to type anything. Your device, attached to your brain, will already know what you’re thinking. So you won’t have to formulate a question in your mind, speak out loud, type a word or search at all. You will, I suppose, just know.

I wonder when we entered what we call “the information age?” Yes, I could Google that too, but I don’t think I really want the answer. I think I prefer to just wonder. Whenever it was, it became clear that we have quick access to billions of bits of information which were previously out of reach. We can answer just about any question we want, it seems. In so many cases, answering questions is exactly the thing to do and this can save countless lives. But there is a price we pay for our growing intolerance of questions unanswered.

The journey vs the destination

Essentially, whenever we answer a question, we put the kibosh on further exploration of the question and its associated ideas. Whether we explore a question or idea alone on the back deck, or around the fire in the company of friends, there is value in the very process of exploring. Exploring questions and ideas without wrapping them up with a neat, tidy answer helps us to learn how to articulate our thoughts, feelings, observations and fantasies.

We can notice the natural and manmade world around us and think deeply about why things are the way they are. Or we can look inward and examine our internal world and explore who we are, where we came from and where we’re going. We can enjoy playing with whimsical questions like, “How does a robin learn how to make a nest?” Or we can grapple with more serious existential, spiritual or religious questions about the meaning of life.

Talking about unanswerable questions and ideas with others has added social benefits. It’s a way to be connected to others. It’s a way to share intellectual and emotional intimacy. It’s a way to practice listening to others and to sharpen debate skills. It’s a way to have fun and laugh together.

The fork in the road

Sometimes it makes good sense to research a question and provide an answer swiftly, make a decision or intervention and move on. There may be no time for, or value in, musing. And sometimes reaching for the smart phone to provide the answer can interrupt an otherwise perfectly smooth and lively conversation. So how do we know when to do which? I’m not sure. But that’s a really good question.

Art Frenz, Ph.D.

Image courtesy of franthony/ morguefile.com