When I was kid I asked a lot of unanswerable questions. Not unanswerable in the sense of no answer existing, but unanswerable because my resources were limited. The internet didn’t exist yet, so I could not access information by typing a few words into a search engine. If the answers were not to be found in my set of Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedias, I took my queries to the definitive authorities in my life: my parents.
Most of the time, this produced satisfying results. There were rare occasions, however, when my parents didn’t know the answer. Sometimes when this happened my mother would suggest I write a letter to “Johnny Wonder” and wait for his reply. Johnny Wonder was the title of a question and answer comic strip that appeared in the Sunday comics of our local paper. He answered a variety of unusual questions submitted by young readers. I have no idea if this comic had nationwide distribution or was particular to our town’s newspaper. I do know that I wrote several letters to Johnny Wonder, and never once did he choose to answer my questions.
I found it very frustrating.
Luckily, these days I can get answers in an instant, and I no longer have to resort to writing to a comic strip character in my pursuit of knowledge. I get simply tap a few key words into the Google search engine and – VOILA! – the answers are mine.
Both the blessing and the curse of this system is the sheer volume of information available. Every conceivable query one can generate thousands, or even MILLIONS, of results. And although the answers come easily, they aren’t always accurate. Sometimes I think of the internet as Marjorie, the All Knowing Trash Heap, one of my favorite characters on the 1980’s children’s program Fraggle Rock. I think the internet is like that all-knowing oracle of trash – it has all the answers, but it has a ton of garbage in the mix, too.
Most recently I searched online for a tool to translate a comment left on my blog in a foreign language. (I think it might have been Vietnamese.) The translation read as a nonsensical rant having absolutely nothing to do with the post it was written under. I have no way of knowing if the fault was in the translator I used, or if the comment was nonsense spam left by a robot. In this instance, I decided to assume it was spam, and trashed the comment.
All in all, I love the easy access of information in our technological age, but I do wish there was a foolproof way to determine the validity of search results. Because that is the conundrum of the internet: It is possible to instantly access information, but it can be difficult to know if the results are reliable.
I wish I still had the address for Johnny Wonder. I bet he would know.