The conversation just started and I already knew I wasn’t going to like it. Of course, I wasn’t going to like it. These people were in danger of upsetting the Offutt Calmness Paradigm.
The Offutt Calmness Paradigm is as follows: don’t say anything ridiculous and I won’t get angry.
The ridiculous statement was, “Why do children still have to memorize state capitals?”
The tone wasn’t sarcastic, but the words? Well, they were fightin’ words.
“What are you talking about?” I asked. My own words came out like this man had insulted my mother, and in a way he had. I fondly remember spending hours sitting with my mother in elementary school going over state capitals at the kitchen table.
Now that I say it, that sounds like a lie.
My companion held up his smartphone. “There’s no point. If they need to know what the capital of North Dakota is, they just have to use this.”
But Bismarck is the capital of North Dakota. Everybody knows that, right? It’s named after German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. And Pierre is the capital of South Dakota. And …
Wait a second.
“But people need to know things,” I said. That’s what separates us from the animals, those unfortunate animals who can survive on their own but sure as hell don’t know their state capitals.
He waved his smartphone again. “They don’t have to.” The rest of the people at the table nodded.
I left this discussion dispirited because they were right, sort of. No one has to know anything anymore. We live in a science fiction world where, when posed with a problem, all a person has to do is ask an electronic device and it gives the answer. It’s like letting a slot machine take your college entrance exam. Would you shove a quarter into “Lucky 7s” and trust it to come up with Bismarck? I wouldn’t, unless it was really paying out that day.
Studies have shown people don’t know a lot of things called “facts” anymore. This is because we have instant access to everything our civilization has felt worthy to put on the internet. And since there are pimple popping videos out there, it’s probably safe to say everything else is, too.
But that doesn’t make it OK. Having instant access to everything knowable doesn’t make us smart, it makes us stupid.
Passenger (pacing angrily because the car has a flat): Come on. Didn’t your dad teach you how to change a tire?
Driver (holding up smartphone): No. There are YouTube videos for that. (Shakes phone). I don’t have any bars.
Having a few days to think about it, the Offutt Calmness Paradigm has eased me back into a state of self-satisfaction. If people are learning less, bar trivia night is going to keep getting easier. Bismarck’s going to win me a free drink someday.
– Jason’s newest novel, “Bad Day for the Apocalypse,” is available at jasonoffutt.com.