The Impending Death of “I don’t know”


I believe we, as a society, are on the cusp of witnessing the death of the time-honored phrase “I don’t know.”

“Hey, Google,” said the voice across the room the other night.

My son, looking down at his tablet computer, spoke as casually as if he were speaking to a friend sitting next to him.

“How many miles it is to Kansas City?”

A voice – a quasi computer-influenced female voice – quickly repeated the question and then seamlessly spoke and displayed the answer on his screen.

In that moment I realized that he and his generation may never need to regularly employ the phrase “I don’t know.”

Today’s technology may potentially drive this popular combination of words from the common vernacular of many people – including me. The other morning I caught myself getting ready to ask my wife what the temperature was outside that morning – only to pull out my phone and get my own answer. Add to the fact I was standing 24-inches from the front door and could easily have stuck my head outside made me realize how my own behaviors are being shaped by technology.

Growing up I learned the phrase of “I don’t know” was a sign of maturity – a moment when you were confident to admit you might not know everything and willing enough to say so. And more times than not, our natural intellectual curiosity would motivate us to seek an answer. Only then, we might discover ourselves in a library of books or seeking out someone who could shed some light on our curiosity.

Today all we need to do is speak a handful of words into our computers.

The generation of those who are native to the digital world, not knowing something only means they’ve not yet asked the question to either their tablet, smartphone, or computer. The act of seeking out people of experience or knowledge is somewhat inconvenient and not a particularly good use of time in their eyes.

The world – or a great amount of the knowledge contained in it – is increasingly at our fingertips (or voice command). The process of searching and assembling information into solution may very well be on the way out for the newer generations.

I do not know how to tie a bow tie. Therefore my son and I never shared a poignant moment where I passed along this very special skill from one generation to the next. This, however, was not a problem to him the day he needed to perform this duty — he simply turned to his computer and watched a short video. Problem solved.

I’m not sure where this hyper-rate of knowledge distribution will lead or what the unintended consequences of how younger minds are developed will be. But I do know the future will be a radically different place – one where the answer may very well be viewed more valuable than the knowledge gained along journey the learning process. The world may very well evolve into one where answers are more valuable to most people than the ability to form a plan to acquire a solution to a problem.

Is this good? I really don’t know – maybe I’ll just need to ask my computer.


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