Seth Godin asked a good question today of contemporary culture and our relationship with curiosity:
The bestselling novel of 1961 was Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent. Millions of people read this 690-page political novel. In 2016, the big sellers were coloring books.
Fifteen years ago, cable channels like TLC (the “L” stood for Learning), Bravo and the History Channel (the “History” stood for History) promised to add texture and information to the blighted TV landscape. Now these networks run shows about marrying people based on how well they kiss.
And of course, newspapers won Pulitzer prizes for telling us things we didn’t want to hear. We’ve responded by not buying newspapers any more.
The decline of thoughtful media has been discussed for a century. This is not new. What is new: A fundamental shift not just in the profit-seeking gatekeepers, but in the culture as a whole . . .
Is it possible we’ve made things simpler than they ought to be, and established non-curiosity as the new standard?
It’s strange to think that we would have “made things simpler than they out to be,” but I think Godin is on to something. In our race to make things palatable, easily digestible, we’ve inadvertently made a culture where we think we have become instant masters of things. And instead of persevering and learning the ins-and-outs of complex things, we walk away thinking we know it all because we have mastered one thing.
While it’s foolish to choose to be stupid, it’s cultural suicide to decide that insights, theories and truth don’t actually matter. If we don’t care to learn more, we won’t spend time or resources on knowledge.
We can survive if we eat candy for an entire day, but if we put the greenmarkets out of business along the way, all that’s left is candy.
And, of course, ultimately we won’t know any different. Godin’s solution is a good one, perhaps a little more idealistic than others might expect.
Even if only a few people use precise words, employ thoughtful reasoning and ask difficult questions, it still forces those around them to catch up. It’s easy to imagine a slippery slope down, but there’s also the cultural ratchet, a positive function in which people race to learn more and understand more so they can keep up with those around them.
Turn the ratchet.
You can read all of Godin’s thoughts on curiosity and “turning the ratchet” here. It’s a good, challenging read.
(image from candy.com)