Many years ago, I sold my PC to an Investment Banker in Singapore. I hooked him up with this exciting new thing called ‘The Internet’ and excitedly showed him the search bar of Netscape Navigator. The cursor flashed expectantly, waiting for him to ask a question, to find an answer, to delve deep into thousands of years of human knowledge. “You can type in anything you want and the Internet will find it,” I said. The banker paused and slowly typed in the word ‘tits.’ Of course, this could be explained by the fact that he was an Investment banker, but rather like children looking up the word ‘fart’ in dictionaries, we’re easily attracted to the puerile when faced with the scary prospect of having to, you know, actually learn something.
Search pages used to be the home page of choice. That flashing cursor was an invitation to explore, to ask a question no matter how ridiculous. You could find out why the sky is blue, explore ancient worlds. You could actually hear what space sounds like. You could examine fossils in 3D; you could read the classics in the largest library in the history of humanity. For free.
And then social media turned up and decided that stories and articles tailored to our clicks and likes were far more important than good old-fashioned random human curiosity. And rather than walking through an infinite Smithsonian, we now walk through Times Square, a gaudy, flashy world of fail compilations, cat gifs, new age life messages and based on this quiz you’re Joey from ‘Friends.’ Our random, wonderful curiosity has been replaced by content decided by an algorithm.
The news we’re fed is the news we’ve specifically shown an interest in. The ads we see, well, they’re based on past behavior and future prediction. Even friends we connect with are chosen as the most relevant to us. We’re surrounded by a world of our own creation – a nice, warm embryo with our favourite band playing quietly in the background. It’s comfortable. It’s friendly. It’s easy. But in our rush to embrace infinitely personalised messaging, are we in danger of killing off curiosity?
It’s easy to be lazy when everything we think we need is right there in a hyperbolic headline or a six second vine. There’s simply no need to go off road and explore. There’s no longer any incentive to be curious.
We live in truly remarkable times. The sum total of human knowledge is available to anyone with a device. Hundreds and hundreds of billions of words explaining life, the universe and everything. Ask a question. Ask anything. There are forty reasons why what happens next could blow your mind.
This article originally appeared in B&T Magazine