When I was in high school, I liked to do my homework at the kitchen table. Invariably I’d come across a word that I wasn’t 100% sure I understood or, even more often, a word for which I wasn’t 100% sure of the spelling. Mom was close at hand in the kitchen, so she was my first resource. Handy and reliable too. After I’d asked her about 3 questions, she’d say, “Why don’t you go look it up?” Not as convenient, but I knew when I’d reached my mom’s limit!
Recently I asked a friend of mine with 2 grown children if there were any oft-repeated words of wisdom she remembered offering her kids as they were growing up. One of the first things she remembered was “Don’t guess. Look it up.” Of course, she’s a librarian, so this is an answer designed to foster good research habits in later life…as well as reserve a few moments of peace and quiet for one’s own pursuits.
Now here we are in a time when the encyclopedia salesperson no longer makes house calls, trying to sell a many-volume set of hardcover books. Instead, we have the smartphone. Now, looking it up is a snap. In fact, it’s almost an addiction.—Cheryl Iverson, MA
I have a “tween” daughter who is interested in sports, Minecraft, YouTube, wildlife conservation, and believing that she knows everything—not necessarily in that order. If I had been a parent 20 years ago, I might have been able to let the dubious or improbable-sounding facts she spouts off during breakfast slide by with a murmured, motherly, “mmmmm.” I might have been able to respond to questions about why Pluto is no longer a planet, how much would it cost to fly from Chicago to Ulaanbataar, or what is the total length of stretched-out human intestines with “I don’t know” or “Go look it up.”
But I am lucky enough to be a tech-connected parent in 2014, and I can know! The phone is in my pocket, the iPad is on the counter, the desktop is steps away! We can look it up together! (Short answers for the curious: too small, orbit too irregular; about $4000 for the 3 of us; and between 15 and 30 feet, depending on your anatomy.) Along the way, I have managed to sneak in a few meta-lessons to my daughter about critical thinking and what constitutes trustworthy information on the internet. You can’t believe everything you read!
Deciding on “screen time” allowances, finding the balance between work and home, and remembering never to put pixels over people are things we all have to navigate. But I have to admit that our “no devices at the dinner table” rule has a “let’s look it up” loophole—ready access to knowledge has solved arguments, taught us new facts, and livened up many a family conversation.— Brenda Gregoline