Information Overload

I have a theory that the human brain can only hold a finite amount of information. Look at it this way: the average brain is not much bigger than a large honeydew and if you were to drill a hole in a large honeydew and stuff it with articles you clipped out of the newspaper there would eventually come a point where you tried to cram an Ann Landers column in that didn't contain a reference to a wet noodle only to discover that the honeydew was full and besides, Ann Landers did tell "Frustrated in Fredericksburg" to "wake up and smell the coffee" which is almost as obnoxious.At this point in my life there are way too many things stuck in my honeydew that don't need to be there anymore. I remember that "dessert" has two esses because you always want seconds. I know that Roger Moore starred in the TV show The Saint. And I know that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, though why I should ever have even learned that in the first place is totally beyond me. But what worries me isn't what I remember, it's how much new stuff I'm constantly trying to put up there. I'm deathly afraid that any day now I'm going to store one too many pieces of information in my brain and the multiplication tables will fall out my left ear. Or I might lose my telephone number. Or my name.That's why it didn't surprise me when I read that fewer than half the adults in this country know that it takes the Earth a year to go around the sun. I'm sure they knew this at one time but then, not realizing the consequences, went ahead and memorized the Thursday night line-up on NBC and, whoops!, there went a piece of useless astronomy out the left ear. Is it any wonder I'm constantly tripping over cosines, the cause of the Battle of Hastings and the correct spelling of "occasionally" when I'm walking down the street minding my own business?The survey in question was one of a never-ending series designed to alarm us over the sad state of education, the deterioration of the youth of our country and our inability to find the continuation of a front-page article on page thirteen because--as everyone should know by now -- there is no page thirteen, newspaper editors being the superstitious bunch they are.But how can we accurately assess our stupidity when these surveys insist on asking trick questions?Actual True or False Question from the Newspaper: The center of the Earth is very hot. (True, but not as hot as Richmond, Virginia in August.)Actual True or False Question from the Newspaper: The oxygen we breathe comes from plants. (I don't know about you, but mine comes from the air, except of course last Friday night at 2:00 am when I was lying face down in a park giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a Bermuda blue fescue sod plug .)Actual True or False Question from the Newspaper: Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species. (Generally true, with the notable exceptions of David Letterman, Fabio and Sandra Bernhart, whose origins have baffled some of our top scientists, including Siskal and that fat guy.)The fact that so many people blew this quiz is sad since science is very important. For without hard working, serious, down-to-earth scientists the white lab coat industry would completely dry up. And attendance at the 15th annual conference of the Society for Scientific Exploration which was recently held at the University of Virginia would have been lower than a grasshopper's limbo bar. This gathering allows some of the best scientific minds of our time -- defined as the largest honeydews stuffed with the most newspaper clippings -- to get together and discuss pressing scholarly matters like whether a UFO really did crash in New Mexico in the 1940s, whether the United States government is withholding vital information about alien visitors and whether the "face" on Mars which was photographed by the Viking space craft looks more like Roseanne or the Cookie Monster.Not a week after this first article appeared another one ran, posing the question: Are today's kids the lamest bunch of chowderheads to come down the pike in years or does everyone really look good with Rachel's haircut? The problem this time wasn't science, it was history. And it was very disheartening. It seems 85% of the people surveyed didn't know what year Alfred Temperature discovered that the center of the Earth is very hot (1964), 64% didn't know the events leading up to plants volunteering to give us oxygen (the signing of the Magna Carta) and 99.9% agree that David Letterman is a poor example of development.What all this really means is that retention is at an all-time low, except of course for water during that time of the month. And while the cure is to pay attention, study hard and write the answers on the palm of your hand, in all good conscience I can't condone this solution. You see, the next time I walk down the street and almost trip over your social security number I don't want to feel responsible. Hey, I wasn't the one who told you to memorize the menu at Taco Bell in alphabetical order.

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