The Need to Know…


I was watching Yes Prime Minister “The Tangle Web” the other night and it’s early scene ‘The Need to Know’ started me thinking…always a bit dangerous that!!

We live in a world where we seem to need to know everything…and wherever possible we need to know NOW, if you would be so kind, thank you very much.

But this is not a new phenomenon – far from it. The need to know more, to discover the world around us and understand it, is, I feel, a natural part of being human. From the dawn of time we’ve strived to discover new things and make sense of the universe around us. Newton pondered the mysteries of mathematics and science; Columbus explored the world seeking new lands and Attenborough (Sir David totally rocks IMO) continues to unlock the secrets of the natural world for our everlasting appreciation.

I bought an old book at a recent fayre – it’s called “Enquire Within Upon Everything”. It’s the 1893 ‘revised’ 88th edition by Houlston & Sons, Paternoster Square, London and its foreword states,

“Whether you wish to model a flower in wax; to study the rules of etiquette; to serve a relish for breakfast or supper; to plan a dinner for a large party or a small one; to cure a headache; to make a will; to get married; to bury a relative; whatever you may wish to do, make or to enjoy, provided your desire has relation to the necessities of domestic life, I hope you will not fail to ‘Enquire Within’”.

It’s brilliant! A snapshot of the late 19th century in Britain complete with adverts for Chlorodyne (some sort of cough medicine I think?) and Celandine ‘The Certain Cure for Corns’ – how delightful! This font of all knowledge helps me understand the niceties of how to appropriately address ‘persons of rank and distinction’ including royalty, the clergy and judges, as well as how to preserve fruit and vegetables and all the while explaining the ‘peculiar kind of medicine’ that is an enema!  It also includes marvellous sayings such as:

  • Honest loss is preferable to shameful gain
  • The best physicians are Dr Diet, Dr Quiet and Dr Merryman
  • Observation is the best teacher
  • To hope and strive is the way to thrive

Ahhhh, pearls of wisdom…every one of them!

I do so love a good encyclopaedia. I love a good book to pore over, discovering new facts and bits of trivia – I like the process of finding out just as much as the actual finding out. I say to my boys sometimes “look it up” when they ask a question (usually because I don’t know the answer but I’m pretending to be giving best parenting guidance for ‘independent learning’ skills – ssshhhush that’s our secret ok?) but, when I say that, I’m envisaging Encyclopaedia Britannica not Google, Bing or Yahoo…and the thing is, that what would have taken me half an hour patient searching and deducing from a book/s takes them 5 minutes if that! (Homework is definitely easier nowadays.)

And there, in a nutshell, you have it – the wonders of the technological world that we now live in. We are still discovering- we are still needing to know; it’s just that we don’t need as much patience any more before we find out what we need to know…

The beauty of the internet is that we can, with a few taps of our fingertips, find out all sorts of information in seconds. For example, I just typed one simple question into Google before I started writing this blog and knew, less than 2 seconds later that Egbert is considered the first King of England – in another 10 seconds I was enlightened with the knowledge that his dates were 827 – 839 and that good ol’ Egbert was the “first monarch to establish a stable and extensive rule over all of Anglo-Saxon England” and he was the grandad of Alfred the Great – how cool is that?!

We can use the internet to connect with people from all over the world, learn about issues and happenings from different viewpoints…take Twittersphere (oh I know it can be like stepping through a virtual minefield sometimes but generally it’s fun and interesting so I’ll take the rough with the smooth) and our very own WordPress of course…we connect with people we’ve previously never heard of, listen to their stories and share their hopes and dreams too – it can broaden our minds and educate us if we let it…how utterly joyful!

The internet really is an amazing source of knowledge and it’s hard to imagine a time without it; it’s a weird enough concept if you actually lived pre-internet but if you’ve never experienced life without the wonderful www. it’s practically impossible! I would sometime regale my students with the harsh realities of my university days – they would sit mouths gaping, minds agog as I explained to them how I had used books and journals, documentaries, newspapers and, wait for it, even microfiche (ye Gods I’m ancient aren’t I?!) to complete my degree…and here’s the kicker that they never could quite get their heads round…all withOUT the internet  – yep no Google, no Siri, no Wikipedia (hmmm maybe there’s a blessing or two there??), nope just the good old fashioned library.

Of course the downside to the internet is that there is SO much information, with many conflicting stories and so what do we believe to be true? Unchecked and unattributed articles could be correct or they could be leading us down a false trail…how do we know what’s accurate? Sometimes, when I’m surfing the www waves I feel very much like PM Jim Hacker, caught in the headlights of the oncoming Sir Humphrey – trying desperately to follow the thread but ultimately ending up in a mental tangle!

But hey, that’s part of the discovering adventure…and I love it!

I shall now leave you with this clip which first got me pondering…and as we join PM Hacker in bafflement may we all be assured that we can know what we need to know, when we need to know it, but not know when we don’t need to kno…yeah I’ll just stop there and say “enjoy!”






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