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Knowing What to Ask January 21, 2022

knowing what to ask

At the risk of sounding more get-off-my-lawn-y than usual, I want to lament the demise of research using books and paper.

Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate the heck out of the internet.  Just yesterday I was working on a writing project that took place on a specific date.[1]  I started to write about moonlight illuminating something or another, and then I realized that perhaps there wasn’t any moonlight that evening.  I said to myself, “Lori, don’t be lazy.  Do your research.”[2]  So I stopped what I was doing, googled, “what was the phase of the moon on June 1, 2019” and got my answer – there was barely any moon out that night, so I had to rewrite.  If I’d had to drive to the library to look at old newspapers on microfiche to make that determination, I wouldn’t have done it.  My desire to stop being lazy ends at having to get out of my chair.

I also like being able to resolve family arguments in less than a minute by using our smart phones (always handy) or Alexa.  We don’t even have to touch the devices.  I can just say “Hey Google – is Angie Dickinson still alive?”[3]

I can find out exactly what I need to know in a matter of seconds.  Truly miraculous, that.  What I can’t find, however, is things that aren’t exactly what I need to know but are more interesting and, sometimes, more relevant. 

I was the kind of kid[4] who loved reference books.  Back in the pre-internet, pre-video game era when I went to elementary school and saber-toothed tigers prowled the suburbs, I could spend hours thumbing through the dictionary or my set of child’s encyclopedias.[5]  I have memories of annoying the grownups around me who were always being interrupted by my cries of “Look at this!”

The thing is, I only know what I know.  I’d like to think I’m pretty well-read and broad minded, but I’ve still only experienced a teensy portion of what’s in the world.  I can only formulate questions that are based on what I suspect is out there.  How can I ask about things I’ve never heard of?  How can I ask without knowing what to ask?

The fun part of research is discovery.  Getting my questions answered is just part of the process.  But finding gems on pages I merely thumbed through to get where I was going?  That’s eye-opening.  I had no idea there were chicken beauty contests out there, and I would never have found out had I not stumbled on it on the way to somewhere else.  I still irritate the grownups around me by randomly starting sentences with, “Did you know…?”  I like sharing interesting things. 

Interesting things I didn’t know to look for.

The internet puts blinders on you.  You only see the answers to your questions.  It doesn’t help if you don’t know what to ask.

[1] June 1, 2019

[2] I always hear the phrase “do your research” in Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice, because he said that once in a Sherlock episode, and it stuck with me for incomprehensible reasons.

[3] Answer: yes.  She’s 90, but yes.

[4] And, honestly, the kind of adult.

[5] Highlighting the rank hypocrisy of what I’m saying here, I just spent 20 minutes on eBay searching “vintage children’s encyclopedias” to see if I could find the same set I had.  All I remembered specifically was that they were yellow.  I found them!  They were the 1969 edition of the Golden Book Encyclopedia. (Yes, I bought them — $25 for the set of 14.  I had to. The nostalgia was about to kill me.)

If you enjoyed this and want to read more like it, visit Lori on Twitter or on Facebook or read her award winning books.  Her newest book, a Foreword INDIES Gold Medal award winner, “If You Did What I Asked In The First Place” is currently available by clicking here.

Knowing What to Ask

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Knowing What to Ask

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Lori Duff

Lori B. Duff is an award-winning author who practices law on the side.  Her latest book, "If You Did What I Asked in the First Place" was awarded the Gold Medal for humor in the Foreword INDIES awards in 2019. You can follow her on Twitter at @LoriBDuff and on Facebook. For more blogs written by Lori, click here. For more information about Lori in general, click here. If you want Lori to do your writing for you, click here. If you want Lori to help you market your book, click here.

Knowing What to Ask January 21, 2022