Saturday, June 03, 2006

Pursuits that are never trivial

Pursuits that are never trivial


Robert L. Fielding

The famous board-game – ‘Trivial Pursuits’ is based on general knowledge questions about  what some call ‘trivia’.  Winning the game means knowing the answers to a lot of questions – that and luck – an essential element in any game.

The word ‘trivial’ derives from the word for a crossroads, which is where folk used to meet to discuss important matters of the day: the cost of soap-flakes, cures for warts, and life in general.

Discussion (examination by argument, debate, conversation, plus, more anciently – consuming food and drink with leisurely enjoyment) presupposes some common knowledge between those in the discussion.  

More specialized knowledge becomes the common variety through discussion and then sometimes becomes assimilated into everyday conversation, which, according to Sir Walter Scott is defined and explained like this:

     ‘Conversation is but carving;
               Give no more to every guest
               Than she is able to digest;
               Give her always of the prime
               And but little at a time;
               Carve to all, but not enough,
               Let them neither starve nor stuff.
               And that each may have its due,
               Let your neighbour carve for you.’

Discussion and debate can sometimes require more formal ways of turn-taking than casual conversation does, but talking, if it is done along the guidelines poetically suggested above, is the way friendships are made, knowledge is disseminated and consensus reached – it is the way cultures survive and continue to grow.

The writer George Orwell once famously said that a newspaper was a nation talking to itself.  I wonder what he would make of the Internet – the worldwide web.

With the advent of the ‘information super-highway’ topics for debate and discussion have opened up until it seems as if any area of knowledge can become generally known.

But is that true, and do people discuss a wider range of subjects than they did before we had the Internet?  The topics people discuss are and always will be those that are most relevant to their lives – issues surrounding the current affairs of the day, money, work, and family, as well as a panoply of others that cluster around those in similar situations, living in similar circumstances, and working in similar fields of employment.

The world has become a ‘global village’, they say.  But has it?  We can find out much more about others than was ever possible, but that still doesn’t mean we always do so in any meaningfully useful way, does it.

A surfeit of information doesn’t necessarily go hand in glove with a wish to acquire that information, at least not in any informal sense.  Of course, the adage that says that knowledge is power is still true, with the additional clause that information also equates with power.

Organizationally, there has probably always been a need for information.  The difference with the advent and advance of the Internet is that it is now possible to access much more information than previously, and from wider and wider sources, much more quickly.

The part the individual plays in this is still crucial though.  For now, instead of going to the actual crossroads to meet and discuss, to find out things as well as being a source of knowledge, we go to the global crossroads; the Internet, to exchange ideas and further our knowledge of the world around us.

Calling the Internet trivial only makes sense when referring it as a crossroads most of us come to every day of our lives to gain access to information from it.
574 words

Robert L. Fielding


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