Charles Petzold

What's Wrong With Not Knowing?

November 5, 2006
New York, NY

Deirdre and I had a few friends over for dinner last night, and my neurotic "no question shall go unanswered; no uncertainty, unresolved" obsession was in full flower. This is where any question that comes up in conversation has to be immediately answered by a little hop over to the computer, and a query to Google, Wikipedia, etc.

For example, the subject of Neil Patrick Harris came up, and one of our friends astonishingly had never seen Doogie Howser or How I Met Your Mother, so he couldn't place him. I knew our friend was a fan of Starship Troopers, however, so it was easy for to find an IMDB photo of Mr. Harris in that role.

Another friend had just seen Borat but have never seen Da Ali G Show so of course we had to go to YouTube to introduce him to the infamous clip of Borat leading the patrons of a red-neck bar in a sing-a-long. I mentioned that Brüno (the Austrian fashionista) was actually my favorite Sacha Baron Cohen character, so we then felt compelled to watch Brüno on spring break.

Someone asked who Demosthenes was (a statue of him guards the Brooklyn Museum), which prompted me to go into a long discussion about how he had determined the circumference of the earth, until I realized that was actually Eratosthenes, so I had to do what I should have done right away: Look him up in Wikipedia.

During the course of the evening, other questions came up that were more easily answered by quick look-ups in various sites:

What is the population of Montclair, New Jersey? (One of use grew up there)

Is Clinton, New York named after George Clinton, the first governor of New York, or his nephew DeWitt Clinton, the later governor of New York? (One of us lived there)

Was Helen Mirren in Caligula? (Don't ask)

How long is Céline and Julie Go Boating?

How old is Brian Eno?

Does the Weekly World News have a web site?

It seems like I just can't let a question hang unanswered, or do what I remember my mother's friends doing when I was a kid — argue for hours over a point that could have been easily answered with the proper reference materials. It's not like I get trapped at the computer. Once the question is answered, I leave the swivel work chair and go back to our guests. But it's still quite annoying for me and everyone else. (And it's even worse when Deirdre and I don't have guests, as you may recall.)

I'm sure I'm not the only person with this affliction, and there must be name for it. (Information-at-your-fingertipitis?) Maybe there's even an entry about it in Wikipedia, and if not there, somewhere else I'm sure....