Out There: Just google it

We take it for granted, this Google.

Illustration by Pepe Fainberg (photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
Illustration by Pepe Fainberg
(photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
The Internet is a wonderful thing, nothing less than a compendium of all human knowledge. And Google is its key.
We take it for granted, this Google.
We forget that information that we now magically have at our fingertips once took time, a lot of time, to gather.
I remember when I first started working as a journalist in the 1980s, before Google, if I needed to know the exact dates of the Russo-Japanese War, or when the Shah came into power, or when Levi Eshkol went to Africa, I would either have to look it up in a worn almanac on my desk or spend hours poring over files in the archives.
Now, boom, all that information is ripe for the picking. Just google it.
Google doesn’t, however, just give you facts and figures and stats, it also shows you how to do things and even how to fix things.
Years ago, during the days of the VCRs, ours would break down about once a year. And each year we would take it to a local shop to get fixed.
“Should I buy a new one?” I’d naively ask the repairman, wondering if it was worth it anymore to keep paying to get it repaired.
“Are you kidding me?” he would always say. “This is the Cadillac of VCRs.
You don’t want to let this baby go.”
Thousands of shekels later it finally dawned on me that while I might indeed have owned the Cadillac of VCRs, I also probably possessed the Volkswagen of brains, because this guy was taking me for a ride year after year. Of course he didn’t want me to buy a new one; my repair needs were helping keep him in business.
None of that would have occurred during the Internet Age, however, as I would just have googled VCRs and figured out how to fix it myself.
GOOGLE CAN direct you to tutorials on everything, from difficult things, such as changing a fuse in the car, to simple things, common things, everyday things that you might not know how to do but are too embarrassed to ask someone else. Like how to make popcorn from scratch. Or how to check the oil in your car. Or how to figure out percentages.
I hate questions like that because these are things I should know, everyone should know. These are the kinds of things – the kind of common knowledge – that if you need to ask, the only people you can really ask without feeling too embarrassed are your parents.
But what if you can’t reach them? “There is no such thing as a dumb question,” my mother would sweetly tell me when I was a kid and peppered her with dumb questions. Mothers mean it. Most other people don’t.
And that is why Google is so great.
You can ask it anything, and it won’t shout back, “You don’t know that? How can you not know that?” Which is why I stopped playing the game Trivial Pursuit.
Remember Trivial Pursuit, that board game that was all the rage back in the 1980s? It had a bunch of general knowledge and popular culture categories and thousands of questions from each one.
The game was fun and mildly educational.
I enjoyed it, until people started prefacing their questions to me by saying, “Here’s one you should definitely know,” or, “Wow, this is a really easy one.”
But how about if I didn’t know it, or if it was not easy at all? How about if it was something like “Who was the first US president to appear on TV’s Meet the Press?” Then, not knowing – because who in the world knows that kind of stuff? – I would feel horribly inadequate. And who wants to spend their leisure time feeling inadequate? So I stopped playing Trivial Pursuit.
BUT THAT didn’t solve the problem, because trivia questions pop up everywhere.
Every Friday night, or at least the Friday nights when all the family is gathered, we sit around in the front room and read. Inevitably, my oldest son will pick up one of the newspapers and ask questions from the trivia quiz it runs each week.
“What bodies of water are connected by the Lamanche canal?” “I dunno?” “What does a pitot tube measure?” “I dunno, something that has to do with falafel?” “What is the book Shiur Koma?” “I dunno.”
Not knowing the general trivial questions, which makes me feel ignorant and diminished in the eyes of my kids, is one thing. But not knowing the Jewish questions is something else entirely – that makes me feel not only ignorant but guilty, and diminished in my own eyes as well. This is part of my heritage.
Okay, so I don’t know who sculpted the Statue of Liberty, but not to know that the Shiur Koma was a Midrashic text attributed to the tannaitic rabbi Yishmael? And you call yourself a religious Jew? How can you not know that? I think to myself.
AND THAT question brings me back to my youth.
After college I spent a little time in yeshiva, and when I returned on vacations to Denver, whenever there was a question of any religious nature whatsoever – a halachic question, a theological question, a question about the source of various traditions – my dad would ask me.
I spent a year in a yeshiva, so I was automatically the go-to guy for these types of questions. The only problem is I hardly ever knew the answer. A year in yeshiva does not a Torah scholar make.
And when I professed ignorance, the reply was, “Well, what good was all that yeshiva education?” The same is true of my nonreligious colleagues and friends. Whenever we’re together and a religious-related question pops up – having to do with kashrut, or the religious view on euthanasia, or recalling some verse from the Torah – I feel all eyes on my kippa.
Even if no one asks me, I feel like I should answer anyhow, chime in to add the “religious perspective.” And when I don’t, I feel the same inadequacy I felt playing Trivial Pursuit and not knowing that Gerald Ford was the first US president to appear on Meet the Press.
“You know what?” I said to The Wife after confessing this sense of inadequacy.
“What I need to do is just spend more time learning.”
“Get real,” she replied. “What you really need to do is ensure you always have access to Google.” 
A collection of the writer’s “Out There” columns, French Fries in Pita, is available at www.herbkeinon.com and www.amazon.com