Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Information is in the Details

Have we lost our curiosity?

I remember the red. We sat on the floor -- 20 five and six year olds -- staring up at the pull down screen. The film projector whirred and clicked behind us, the light from the image catching the dust in the air. It was my first time. REVOLUTION. AMERICA. RED COATS. Funny outfits. Fascinating outfits. They were a long way way in time from my saddle shoes and yellow yarn hair ribbons. They were a long way in space too. My Long Island home seemed very far from this New England.

The second time...that I remember at fifth grade teacher suggested that I go visit a mansion for sale in her neighborhood. "It's old. I think you'll like it. Ask your parents to take you." Not surprisingly, it was the details of the library in that old house that I remember. Books lined every wall. Columns punctuated corners. There was light streaming in from the windows at a perfect angle for any reader lucky enough to sit in the lemon yellow reading chair in the corner. The smell of mold permeated. "That is the smell of old," I thought. "People lived here and now they are gone. Who got to read in that chair?"

Slowly throughout my childhood I took in the details. The dust catching the light of the movie projector was the same dust that got caught up in the sunlight of the old house. It was the same dust I saw when I hung upside down on my parents bed to look at the ceiling. Books were everywhere. (It helped that mom brought me to the public library every week to help develop my healthy appreciation of books.) Reading was everywhere. I read signs and cereal boxes. Signs of life and ideas were everywhere. Someone had written a symbol in the wet cement of my childhood driveway when it was first poured. It was there before my family. "Why did someone put it there?"
The details of the pines at Lake Massabesic in Manchester, NH
are inspiring. It's the details that awaken our curiosity.

My curiosity drove me to look for the information in the details. Curiosity lead to more curiosity and eventually discovery. But now, I am beginning to wonder, is our first stab at life in the 21st century killing our curiosity? Do we notice the details any more? Have our kids ever noticed the details? I watch people walk by informative signs every day. I watch readers power through or struggle with passages without picking up another resource that helps explain the parts that are not understood. I watch spring flowers pop and hear the birds chirping. I stop to listen and look for more. The information is in the details. The learning is in the details. Do other people stop to look and listen?

Information resources can be like the whipped cream on top of the sundae. It adds a little extra something sweet. OR, information resources can be the chunks of chocolate deep within the ice cream of that sundae. When you dig, you find something extra special.

I think that we may be forgetting this. I think that many of us are not teaching our kids this. My kid is creating creative videos and doing a lot of writing on a tablet these days. Despite how awesome it is that she is creating, we require her to come up for air to go for nature walks, play ball, visit a museum or just play outside. I may be one of the biggest fans of digital information tools and social media that I know, I am still concerned about losing "real life" and a real sense of history to it. I am worried that my kid does not get enough of it.

I think that we are forgetting that it is worth digging beyond the surface sweetness to find the true nuggets that make our lives meaningful and connect us to our communities of the past, present, and future. In my field, "who lived here before me?" is only adequately pondered when striving to take in the details. I don't care who built this house if I just live here. That is, many of us don't care who lived here unless the basement floods. Then we wonder, "what crazy person built the home on a flood plain?" Instead, I'd rather ponder the question every day. "Who looked out these windows before me? Did they hear the birds singing too? Were they the same kinds of birds?"

To understand information and its value as a whole, one needs to be curious about the details. We gain that curiosity by paying attention. We are taught to pay attention by our encounters in life. If our children bury their noses in iPads all day, they don't get a chance to encounter life. What information are we then losing? What sense of purpose are we losing?

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