I honestly couldn’t even tell you how a pencil works. There’s a sliver of mineral called graphite inside of a hexagonal wooden stick, that much I understand. But how that leaves a trail of legible markings on paper is beyond me. It just happens and we accept this. Don’t get me started on ballpoint pens.
I don’t know how vinyl records work and the idea that human voice is somehow trapped in the grooves of a large flimsy disc is more mystifying than all the satellite and shuttle launches in the history of mankind.
If you ask me how computers work, I could probably come up with some half-truth crap to fill your ears with, ending the monologue with a reference to binary code or The Matrix, but in reality the fact that I can press buttons and make words appear on a screen is like all the mystery of childbirth and the universe combined.
I’m not sure how car engines work, though I’ve seen diagrams. I think I understand how airplanes work, yet being inside of them at cruising altitude still feels like a sin against gravity that soon we’ll all be punished for. I don’t understand refrigerators or light bulbs or vacuum cleaners. I’m far removed from the system (and logic) of nuclear weapons. Automatic doors still feel like they’re futuristic. There is a part of my brain that can fathom time travel, but I am still baffled by electric toothbrushes.
I understand zippers and toilets. I know how boats work, I think. Film photography makes sense, as does air conditioning, microwaves, and sewing machines. I can grasp the idea of the human heart and nervous system, but I’m still a bit fuzzy when it comes to explaining how violins make music.
There is plenty in this world left to be discovered. As Bill Nye once said, “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” Be curious. Ask questions. Do research. If you want to know how something works, look it up.
My best advice comes from a game that my college roommate and I used to play on lazy afternoons. Open Wikipedia. Find the “random article” button. See how many pages you can go through before you stumble on something familiar. The point of the game? See if you can find that familiar topic in less than ten clicks.
Here’s an example. Know about any of these things?
- Bombing of Bremen in World War II
- Pratap Malla
- Cancún International Airport
- Lethrinops longimanus
- White Clay Creek
- Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University
- University Philosophical Society
- Henrietta Independent School District
- Gridley Mountain
If not, then it’s time you learn more things. Life is too short and the universe too big. We’re meant to acquire knowledge. I don’t know what we’re supposed to do with all the knowledge, but if you’ve got a 200-gigabyte hard drive, you don’t just use 10 gigs and call it quits. You fill that sucker up.