I like this era that we are calling the information age. I like the technology, and I like the information. This free access to information gives me a feeling that I can find any fact I want with a little searching and a little help. The metaphor of an information highway is probably quite accurate, as I often feel like I'm racing down a highway in a open convertible and all I have to do is slow down a bit as I go past the information I want. If I don't slow down the view is still exhilarating.
I like the idea that I can read my weekly newsmagazine on my computer and that previous editions are indexed if I want to read about the past events that I'm condemned to repeat if I don't remember. I find it comforting that the complete works of William Shakespeare and 14 Bible translations are only a keystroke away on a small silver disk that my computer can help me read. On other disks there are encyclopedias, dictionaries, the great books, Supreme Court arguments and decisions, the laws of Utah and the U.S., a complete phone directory of the U.S. and many foreign countries, and the Physician's Drug Reference.It is not only reassuring that we have all this information, but a bit mind boggling that I can sit in my office at Snow College and use the library at any major university in the United States and many in Europe and Asia. If I wish, I can take a complete foreign language course on my computer or dissect a frog or examine a cadaver. I can study law, mathematics, history or get help finding rhymes when I write poetry. I can even file my federal income tax without putting pencil to paper.
The push of a computer key sends my tax form to the IRS and my $12 refund to Zions Bank in Manti, Utah.
The point is that this information is only important if people can find it. It may be that teaching students how to find information is more important than the very few facts that we will ever get them to commit to memory. One of the most important skills that should come with students from our schools is the knowledge of how to learn. Where do I find information on . . .?
A few weeks ago I noticed in a news article a reference to a statement by George Gallup Jr. about Bible-reading in the United States. He said that most adults in the U.S. did not know who gave the Sermon on the Mount. I wanted to know more about this Gallup survey but forgot to save the article. I even forgot to save, in my mind, the name of the newspaper or magazine where I noticed the article. It could have been a very old magazine in a doctor's waiting room or a more current newspaper. It could have been in the Sunday New York Times. The only thing I could remember for sure was that Gallup said it.
Telephone directory assistance was no help. You have to narrow the search down to a specific city. I even tried 1-800-555-1212 to see if there was a toll-free number listed for Gallup. People at that number know every 800 number in the U.S. All I found was that calling Gallup must not be free.
Perhaps someone else in the survey business would know. Dan Jones and Associates did. Their phone number was in the Salt Lake directory.
Dan Jones Associates not only knew the number of what is called the Gallup Organization, the associate I talked to gave me an address in Princeton, N.J., the name of Gallup's magazine, a subscription address, and some encouragement. Even with all the whistles and bells of technology, it is most helpful to talk to a real live person who honestly cares about the question. One of the serious chuckholes on the information highway is the nasal-sounding multiple choice test I hear on the telephone. "If you are short push 1. If you are lost push 2 and then the pound sign, then your pin number subtracted from the atomic weight of the lead you've grown in your lower body listening to this short recording. If you are stupid or have a rotary phone, or both, please stay on the line and an operator will assist you sometime after the year 2000." The message is at least as annoying as the elevator music that has been condensed and put in the telephone. But none of this at Dan Jones - just someone who is helpful.
The call to Gallup was another lesson in helpfulness. "I'll send you the complete text of Mr. Gallup's talk along with data from Survey GO 9022021. I'll also include a copy of an article from the Gallup Magazine. You should have the fax in a couple minutes." That is another tool that I don't understand enough to take for granted.
Someone in New Jersey that I've never met puts a copy of some survey information in a machine and instantly, over a thousand miles away in beautiful downtown Ephraim, a copy of the survey comes out of another machine. Of course this was only one of the many ways the Gallup organization could have sent me the information. "Should I send this UPS, Express Mail, E-mail, or by telepathy?" Do I want the information to come to my home, office, computer, fax machine, automobile or wife?
Even with all the technology, it took a caring person to get the information I wanted. This argues for something more that learning how to find and use information. This argues for something that should be learned in schools, homes and churches. Even more important than knowing how to drive on the information highway is knowing how to help others and knowing how to graciously accept help. Thank you Dan Jones and Associates. Thank you Gallup Organization. Now if I really knew about finding information I'd thank someone by name and use primitive technology, a hand-written card.