Wednesday, July 13, 2022

‘How Did You Know Anything?’

Recently, my wife and I were visiting one of our daughters and her family, and we told them a humorous story about a camping trip we went on in the early 1980s. (It’s humorous now, but it wasn’t so funny back then when we were completely ill-prepared and then it started pouring rain around midnight.)

After telling the story, my daughter sincerely asked, “How did you KNOW anything back then?”

We weren’t quite sure what she meant. She explained, “Back in those days, if you wanted to go camping, you couldn’t do an online search for, ‘What camping gear do we need?’ So, how did you know how to prepare for something you never did before?”
My wife and I looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders. That’s a good question. How did we know anything back before the Internet? Or, more specifically, how did we acquire new information quickly? I’m assuming we knew SOMETHING back then, but most likely it was something useless at that moment. For example, if the question at hand was, “What camping gear do we need?” it doesn’t really help to reply, “I don’t know, but I do know that Millard Fillmore was president from 1850 to 1853.”

An important source of information was the local library. Even back then I preferred making stuff up (you know, like this weekly column) rather than doing time-consuming research. But in high school I did have to go to the library occasionally because I had to write research papers, after discovering the hard way that making up the details of Millard Fillmore’s time in the White House did not impress my 11th grade History teacher. (On the other hand, my version, complete with Ninjas warriors and laser beams, was much more interesting.)
Back in the pre-Internet days, the best way to learn something specific was to ask someone who happened to be an expert in that field. I had a buddy who knew how to fix washing machines, and another friend who used to work for a carpenter and knew everything about power tools. Also, a guy I went to school with had an uncle who lived next door to a lady whose cousin was a doctor, so my college buddy was our go-to person for medical advice.

Back then, I had a friend who was an expert about camping. And no, he did not advise me to go camping with just a blanket and no tent. I tried to call him before our adventure, but there was no answer. (He was probably camping.) Don’t forget, in addition to no Internet, there were no cell phones back then either, so I couldn’t send him a text or leave a voice message.

If I had been able to reach my camping friend and tell him our plans, he might have warned me that, “Um, probably,” is not a trustworthy answer when you ask a person, “Do you have enough room in your tent for us, too?” (Turns out this other friend who invited us did not have room — not even close. And it turns out one blanket and a package of marshmallows is not even close to being a complete set of camping gear for two people.)
So, getting back to the question our daughter asked us: how did we KNOW anything before the Internet existed? I finally smiled at my daughter and said, “To be honest, honey, we actually didn’t know anything back then. And down through the years, we’ve worked very hard to keep you and your sister from realizing just how little we knew.” 

In reply, she nodded her head and said, “I already knew that. I looked it up on the Internet.”

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