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Everything is Interesting…What Went Wrong?

David Cowles

Jun 21, 2022

Childhood today could be and should be utopian, but it isn’t. Not even close! Why? How did we screw things up so massively?

Back in the day, acquiring knowledge was difficult. First you had to spend 1,200 hours a year in a classroom, sitting up straight and listening to the most exciting stuff in the universe (How does the world work? How did we come to be? And why are we the way we are?) made as dull and boring as humanly possible. Then, if you were a glutton for punishment and wanted to know more about something, you had to spend hours in a dusty library, searching for the book that would tell you just exactly what you needed to know. For two years in high school, I spent most of my Sunday afternoons at the Main Branch of the Boston Public Library, a 30 minute drive, each way, from my home, a far cry from Google.

Knowledge is information and information is created whenever a unique event occurs. Information, broadly speaking, is the difference between what actually happens and what might have happened. I could have used these exact same words to define another word, an adjective, ‘interesting,’ so: Information is Interesting!

Ok…what’s the big deal? Well, this for starters: when we say that information is interesting, we’re not saying that this or that piece of information is interesting; we’re saying that all information, by definition, is interesting.

We’re also saying something else. We’re saying that anything interesting must contain information. Something is interesting only to the extent that it might have been other than it is, and of course ‘to be’ is other than ‘not to be.’ As Hamlet noted, ‘to be’ and ‘not to be’ form the ultimate contrast. To be is to be information, pure and simple. Creatio ex nihilo. 20th century physicist John Wheeler famously said, “it from bit.” What we call ‘objects’ (its) are really just packets of information (bits).

Grammatically speaking, in the sentence ‘Information is interesting’, ‘interesting’ is not an adjective modifying ‘information;’ the two words are synonymous. All information is interesting, and whatever is interesting, to the extent that it is interesting, consists of information.

So, just imagine how great it must be to be a kid today! Classrooms are smaller and less constricting; many teachers work hard to make their inherently interesting material fresh and inviting; and libraries…well, the greatest library in the world (at least since Alexandria, RIP) is at the fingertips of most five-year-olds.

Lest you think I exaggerate, I have firsthand experience to back me up: my five to ten-year-old grandkids know about things that I could never have dreamt of at their age, and some things I still can’t wrap my head around. Plus, and this is the really surprising part, they know what they know in astounding detail. There was nothing I knew in such detail when I was their age.

So, to be young today must be to live in Utopia. Everything is interesting and information (the subject of all interest) is readily available.

To be young today must be to live in Utopia, right? Obviously not!

Childhood today could be and should be utopian, but it isn’t. Not even close! Why? How did we screw things up so massively?

Challenge: Where did we go wrong? What can we do to fix it? In 300 words or less, tell us your idea(s). We’ll print the best ideas in our Fall Issue (9/1), with proper attribution of course. Email to take the challenge. Be sure to put “Childhood Challenge” in the subject line. All submissions must reach us by 8/1.


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