AS FAR AS I CAN REMEMBER the question was asked by my mother virtually every day after I got back home from school. As I disappeared into adulthood it has remained a question that one asked oneself for survival. The advent of the internet changed everything and the acquisition of knowledge has indeed become both difficult and easy in equal measure even if one “googles it” these days.
THE FOCUS TODAY IS TO KNOW where to find what we need to know rather than to know anything for its own sake. The internet has universalized knowledge and, in the words of Peter Drucker, we are all “knowledge workers” now. The core issue at the workplace is job knowledge and on the execution of tasks that we are remunerated for. The acquisition of knowledge has now boiled down to the necessity of knowing anything. All of the rest is categorized as “useless knowledge”. When Bertrand Russell sought from students the names of the beautiful flowers in bloom outside his lecture hall at Harvard University, he drew a blank and kept wondering whether the modern credo was that if knowing anything does not earn money, it is not worth knowing at all !
FOR THE PURPOSES OF REMAINING IN OUR JOBS and in being good at what we are doing we do need to know everything that our jobs entail. But if we attach a price tag for everything that we may need to do for a better understanding of the world around us we may even be in trouble. I do not remember the context or the name of the person who made this remark : IF YOU THINK EDUCATION IS EXPENSIVE, TRY IGNORANCE.
ON THE OTHER HAND the sheer pace and intensity with which information is thrown at us relentlessly makes it increasingly difficult for us to sift and digest all that we come across. Lest one suffers from information anxiety, one has to make a conscious effort to skip, skim and sometimes even speed-read to deal with all that we encounter. The historian G.M. Trevelyan once remarked that education has taught a vast majority how to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading. This is indeed a dilemma that all of us face.
WHAT WE NEED TO KNOW AND WHAT IS WORTH KNOWING depends on where we are and what we do. For example, my job requires me, amongst other things, to monitor the the risk prone areas in various shipping routes which is wholly irrelevant, say, to my friend Aneesh maintaining a cable television network back home in Kannur. Yet when both Aneesh and I discuss (although I mostly listen) temple architecture or the folklore of Kerala we celebrate civilization itself and enrich our minds. Equally, I would be all ears if my friend Prabhu (a cricket buff and who plays the game) takes me through the differences in the batting techniques of Shikhar Dhawan and Mahendra Singh Dhoni or my friend Michael, a football enthusiast, explains why Rooney is a better player than Messi (or the other way round).
WE NEED NOURISHMENT FOR OUR HEARTS AND MINDS and this happens when we sustain a healthy curiosity beyond the small sphere of our own individual lives. Knowing something that is beyond what is essential for our daily life not only wards off ennui but also helps us forge a kinship across borders and cultures and we become, in a manner of speaking, citizens of the world. Hence, it is worth asking ourselves every day the question the title of this piece bears, which, those interested in our well-being stopped asking us when we all became adults.