I was walking up the Santa Monica Pier to the boardwalk’s edge just as the sun was setting on a crisp, Los Angeles winter’s night. A group of teenagers were still sunbaking on the beach. Little kids were running toward the Ferris wheel with greedy, sweaty faces. A local vendor was deep-frying churros before the swarms of tourists washed over the boardwalk to dampen her enthusiasm. There was just the ocean breeze, the neon lights and the gentle cadence of conversation.
There were just a few short hours until I was due to board my fifteen-hour plane back to Australia. I was feeling a little blue and wasn’t quite ready to be leaving my beloved America for yet another year, but I was having a perfectly fun and happy time regardless. How could I not? The chirpy atmosphere and the salty redolence dancing in the air was my own little Garden of Eden.
Well, for all of five minutes. My euphoria was briefly interrupted by the burning desire to find answers to a question of arguable relevance.
Why do kangaroos have double-pronged penises?
As for the origin of this somewhat left-of-field curiosity, I could not possibly tell you. One minute, I’m an observant and self-aware participant in society and, the next thing I know, I’m wondering if female kangaroos must have extra vagina holes to accommodate the double-pronged penises of their male counterparts.
But if I’m perfectly honest, I experience moments just like this all the time, it turns out. To me, this seemingly disjointed object of fascination wasn’t really that strange. Just the other day I was pumping gas when completely unprovoked, my mind began obsessively raiding the nooks and crannies of my brain trying to remember the name of the guy Cam Gigandet played in The OC (Kevin Volchok).
So, what did I do at this moment? Did I ignore the insane thought and continue to look out to sea as I ponder the fathomless wonder of the universe?
No, of course, I fucking didn’t.
I whipped out my iPhone, and I googled that shit. Are you kidding me? If kangaroos really do have double-pronged penises, why would I waste precious seconds even debating whether to google it or not? Never mind that fairy floss sunset, this was information I needed to be fact-checked and archived. I have a mental Rolodex floating around my temporal lobe reserved for little nuggets of wisdom just like this. Whenever I’m stuck in the middle of an otherwise banal conversation about the weather with a grocery cashier or a co-dependent barista, I dig deep in that file, and I pull out the first thing that piques my interest.
I mean, it has at times subjected a polite bystander to a much stranger conversation than they bargained for. “Do you know why murderers and child molesters are often identified by their first AND middle names instead of just their first? Like John Wayne Gacy and Paul John Knowles? Well, it turns out that they do that to protect innocent people who happen to have similar names from being wrongly accused.” What can I say, my little gems of knowledge aren’t all gonna hit.
Unfortunately, analyzing this cognitive tick of mine has forced me to accept that I have become a moron. It’s true. Am I really that incapable of enjoying nature at its most glorious without investigating the nature of a kangaroo’s reproductive system? My attention span was simply ill-equipped to ignore that carrot dangling right in front of me. And, I’m not the only one. I’d hazard a guess that 75% of modern-day civilians would commit at least a quarter of an hour developing a firm grasp on the marsupial anatomy rather than appreciate a West Coast sunset.
I guess it is a little sad. People don’t really need to be smart anymore. Instead of consulting five-hundred-page books and dedicating lifetimes in the pursuit of learning and exposing truths, we can type a few words into a search engine and gain a condensed, rudimentary understanding of something that we didn’t three seconds earlier. Anthropologists, for example, work hard in facilitating a widespread awareness of important trends in society and culture. Luckily for the present-day anthropology student, they don’t need to be wasting time rifling through twenty-thousand-word essays about Barth’s Theory of Transactionalism – they can probably just do a quick google search on the important bits and get along just fine.
Also, it turns out that my high school suspicions really were true: I don’t need math in everyday life. What’s 40,675 divided by 5? Easy, 8,135. How do I know? Because I literally googled it just then purely for the purposes of substantiating my point in this article. In the pre-Google days, not only would I irreparably spoil blood vessels calculating the answer in my head, but I would also experience the subsequent self-hatred when I inevitably fail to calculate the answer. Yay for Google!
Are these advances making some functions of our brain redundant? Most certainly, yeah. But guess what?
I don’t care. Not really.
Even I find myself yearning for the days of yore. It’s hard to remember that there was once a time that you had to read books or engage with educated people if you had questions that you needed answers to. I often imagine a curious young lad from an impoverished family during the Great Depression who spent several weeks, night and day, sweating with curiosity to learn about how human beings came to be. Until, late one afternoon, he ran all the way into the town square, barged through the mahogany doors of the public library and tore out a heavy, leather-bound book while standing on his tippy-toes. His mind swelled with wonder as he learned about a chap named Charles Darwin and his Theory of Evolution. He could hardly believe that humans evolved from apes! Oh, how marvelous!
In my defense, it’s not my fault. The advances of modern-day technology allow us the luxury to know anything, anytime. We don’t really need to retain any information whatsoever. I didn’t squander precious minutes consulting my unreliable memory of ninth grade biology for a basic understanding of kangaroo penises; the answers I needed were mere seconds away.
All that said, I know that there’s nothing quite like watching a sunset. Daunting and oppressive though the sun may appear at its apex, it’s easy to forget that it will soon disappear into the Pacific Ocean. The sepia-drenched clouds gently somersaulting in a sky bathed in neon. There’s a sense of finality and it serves as a reminder that life is fickle and that all good things must come to an end. How on earth could I possibly live with myself for wasting such a remarkable display of nature on a passing thought about kangaroo penises?
That’s because I didn’t. Instead of being distracted by my curiosity, I had the information I needed within seconds. I typed my question into a search engine, read what was provided to me, and then I continued to watch the sky until it was illuminated by nothing but stars and the pale moonlight, grateful for another tomorrow.