When we travel, I tend to look up every trivial thing that pops into my head.
How old is Ringo Starr? Is Marianne Faithful still alive? Why was the University of Iowa so ticked off at the Stanford marching band? Could I order a tortilla press from Amazon? What does Lucinda Williams look like?
Email and Facebook keep my far-flung family and friends gratifyingly close (keep those videos of Most Adorable Grandbabies coming!) but most of my time online is spent looking things up. Maybe it’s the librarian in me. My kids learned not to ask Mom for help with a school project unless they were prepared to see her doing research even after the paper was done, turned in, and returned with a shiny gold star. You can take the librarian out of the library, but you can’t take the eternal quest for answers out of the librarian.
Back then, I was consulting actual reference books, at home and whatever library I could get to. It was hard, but satisfying. Satisfying, but time-consuming. Raise your hand if you think those days are gone. Everybody knows it’s all on the Internet. We don’t even call it the World Wide Web anymore, and we don’t need a computer! Just a phone, a way cool thing that will spit out an answer for just about any question we can dream up. These days, no question need go unanswered!
But be forewarned. Are you sure you should trust those answers you find with such ease? Even I, a professional who once taught medical doctors how to find evidence-based studies on the surgery they were performing next Tuesday, have been steered down blind alleys when I follow the easy answers bouncing around my phone. It’s so easy to do. I could tell you stories. Here are a few.
Recipes: On our way home from Omaha, we spied a Panera that looked really good, given that they serve soup and it was sleeting outside. I ordered the Garden Vegetable with Pesto, and was so pleased with my meal, I looked up the recipe when I got back into the car. I learned there are devious cooks who rush home from restaurants and come up with their own versions of a four-star Steak Diane or Chocolate Tres Leches Cake. This soup recipe? It called for barley, though I found none in my bowl at Panera. And nowhere in the instructions does it mention when to add the green beans or tomato paste, or how long to let it simmer. It turned out okay, but was more of an adventure than I’d signed up for.
Restaurants: I love to look up exotic dining spots in big cities we’re getting to know, like this fabulous sounding African place in Milwaukee, the one we walked by three times until we realized there was nothing at that address anymore. You would think businesses would take down their websites when they close. Maybe they were too depressed to deal with it. Next time we’ll call. You bet we will.
Facts About People: Sure, I would love to know where Ted Cruz was really born and whether or not this bars him from being president of the USA. Good luck finding a factual, credible, we’re-not-just-making-this-up, non-satirical, pundit-free site where you can settle this once and for all. Truthiness is all over the Web. Thoughtfully presented news is more elusive. Don’t forget what happened to Sarah Palin’s profile on Wikipedia moments after her run for Vice President burst onto the media. Busy fingers got to work, sweetening up her life story (Story, get it? It was fiction!) in order to impress those wondering if she should be a heartbeat away from the presidency. Repeat after me: Anyone can write for Wikipedia. It is not at all equal to an honest to God encyclopedia, which is not free, but can be consulted at any public library at no charge.
Product reviews: Amazon saved my Christmas, when a broken foot made shopping more than inconvenient. Customer reviews nearly did me in. For every “This is the greatest invention since pots and pans!” there are sixteen “This bread slicer ruined my wedding.” I was paralyzed until I remembered I don’t know these people. Why should I care what they think?
Genealogy: On a mad chase to know more about my paternal grandfather, I subscribed to Ancestry.com. How fascinating to find pictures from my family photo album right there, under “John Julius Kress.” How annoying to see all the people misidentified by fellow climbers of my family tree. Now I don’t know what to believe.
Directions: The first time I used a GPS, it led me down a shadowed, one-way route that I swear was a sidewalk in front of someone’s house. When we ended up just a block from the fruit shop I’d been hunting, I was grateful, but that “street” is not on any print map.
Health advice: Why do we trust outlandish cures on some random nutcase blog more than the professional recommendations of actual doctors who know us? Sure, every time I see another miracle migraine cure, I click. I’ve learned by now that I’m looking only for entertainment, and boy, do I find it!. But I shudder to think of all the people sending away for chicory roots, bat guano, and tea brewed from the shoe leather of retired Tibetan monks, all in hope of finding relief for what ails them.
It’s fun to think all the real, true answers are out there, at the tap of a virtual keyboard. Just remember what they say: Believe half of what you see, son, and none of what you read on the Innertubes.