Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Expansion of the Noteworthy

The 90s in India can be called the decade of the rise of quizzing. When we were kids, we had the fabled Bournvita Quiz Contest. A dear friend of mine went on to participate to the national level. He was the first friend of mine to appear on television. The second friend to appear on television several years later was on the show Kaun Banega Crorepati Junior. In the intervening years, quizzing had evolved from a prodigious duel of minds to a game show.

I never liked quizzing. In the beginning, it seemed like it was easy enough. I was what Americans call a straight A student. I knew things. So should have been good at quizzing. It did seem like that for a while. All I had to do was keep up with the news, read those ‘general knowledge’ books that I’ve talked about earlier, and combine all of that with my already voracious reading habits to become a quizzing genius. Alas, it didn’t work that way.

For soon I discovered that what was worth knowing was ever expanding. It wasn’t confined to the news or current affairs of general knowledge books. I was scandalized to find that they asked you questions about movies, things that I knew little of. To make it worse, they asked questions about Hollywood movies, things that I had little or no access to. Movies weren’t knowledge! They were time-pass, entertainment!

I found that I wasn’t interested in keeping up. I had a very narrow field of interests – science and fiction – and didn’t feel much need to step out of it.

With the advent of mass media, what is worth knowing has expanded tremendously. And it has really exploded with the internet. The Encyclopedia Brittanica article on the Barbie doll is about 700 words long. Compare that to the Wikipedia article on the doll. Imagine how much more there is to know today.

In such an environment, all of us feel as if we aren’t keeping up. That we are missing out on stuff. Hence this strong urge to be plugged in to our social streams. We don’t want to be people who don’t know. We don’t want to feel knowledge-inadequate.

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