People have been asking questions for a lot longer than I have expertise to comment on (as many of you know, I am not an anthropologist, sociologist nor psychologist). But, I do know that we have asked questions of our parents to know why the sky is blue. We have asked questions of books to know more about a given subject or to know more deeply an idea or story. And, more recently, we have started asking questions of machines (Google, most specifically) to answer questions of the moment like who sang 867-5309 (Tommy Two Tone).
So, the question I am posing is really, why is it that we have not yet found a perfect way of getting our questions answered? Why is it that we are constantly searching not just for answers, but for better ways to attain those answers. Entire ventures and industries rest on having the best way to answer your questions. Services like Hunch, Aardvark, or Quora believe that they are on the cutting edge of leveraging the crowd to answer questions, and I have to say that I have turned to them on occasion. I have also looked at Wikihow, Answers.com or Yahoo answers for an occasional fix of information. Yet, I’m not entirely satisfied by any of these services.
Which is, I guess, why I am still looking. I still have to cobble together the best of what I find and make decisions about which answers make sense for my particular need. I just keep wondering why we haven’t figured it out, yet. Why is it that over the centuries of asking our questions we haven’t developed any better way of getting answers. I understand that we will continue to research and dig deeper, and find out more about the human condition every day. I get that every question we ask just begets more questions. But that isn’t it…
I just want to know why I keep asking our questions to different things. Why can’t I find a single place to go to get all of my questions answered by people that I trust and respect? Is it too much to ask… perhaps.
But, perhaps we are getting further away from that value. Perhaps by turning to a machine to answer questions, or turning to the wisdom of strangers we are still having to apply the same level of skepticism that we are looking to lose. Perhaps we need to go back to asking our parents why the sky is blue, and then just believing them when they answer. At some points, I need to know the people answering my questions intimately. At some points, I want to put together the knowledge with those people and have that be enough. In these times, I want a place that feels like looking up at a mystery and slowly watching it unravel in front of me as someone I trust comes to my aide with a story of experience or a suggestion of what to do next.
That is why I haven’t found a single place to ask my questions. I guess that is what I am currently trying to build, what I want to be in place for my children and for the people I work with, and for the strangers I meet who also have questions. If we could just all bring along the people that we trust and start weaving our questions and answers together into a network of real conversations, that would be truly something. I guess I would still probably Google things, but for questions like “Where should I go from here?”, I need something else.
“African or European swallow?”
The last bit here gets to the point that's most important. “Where should I go from here?” is an internal question. We can't outsource those. Chances are, no matter the answer, you'd already have your answer in mind anyway.
Then there are gatekeeper/key master questions. We ask these when we're looking to make certain the people we surround ourselves with are the ones we should be, the ones remembering he's “President Bartlett.”
In answer the the kind of question that's the main crux of this post, there's so bleedin' much to know nowadays. When I didn't know why Illinois schools got the day off for Casimir Pulaski Day, my grandpa sent me to the family room to retrieve the proper volume of Britannica to find my answers. At the time, it was the best we could do. People knew there were more answers out there, but also knew they had access to the ones they were likely to need. When the Berlin Wall of Information fell, we all had to scramble to figure out how to form an information republic. I don't have any more problem turning to a machine than a book. Answers are answers. At this point, we're bickering over Dewey or Library of Congress.
As I ask more and more people what questions they want to answer. The
biggest questions can't be found in a book or with a machine. They can only
be found through conversation and through iteration. That is what I am
trying to build. I want a community of question askers that aren't
interested in finding the easy stuff. Until I have that, I will always be
looking for new ways to answer questions.
In the spirit of the post's title, let's pause a moment and look to
Aristotle. We want the Lyceum back. As for the biggest questions, the
answers can't be found. Much of this is playing in the philosophical realm.
I don't know if I'd be satisfied if I uncovered an honest-to-goodness
answer. Every once in a while, though, a possibility rears its head. Those
are the moments worth asking for. I wonder if question / answer is a false
dichotomy. I wonder if it's becoming one.
I also wonder about the people who don't wonder. What of the community to be
formed of non-question askers? What is their place? What value will / do
they hold as our ability to access information expands?
Well, those are two very different things.
I wonder too if we will get to a place where we can stop seeking absolute
answers and just dwell in the questions for a while. I have always sought
truth, but I think that my truth isn't so much about figuring out what the
answer is, but rather, figuring out what kinds of spaces create the best
questions and thereby lead to the most interesting answers (I do think that
getting to an answer at some point matters in many regards, even if it is
just a stopping point on the way to the next question).
The people that don't wonder are really scary. I lived with a couple and
that was the craziest part. They didn't wonder more than outside of their
own experiences. They didn't wonder what was possible. I fear for us when
those people get into places of power. I fear for them if they never do.