As Douglas Adams effectivley pointed out, 42 is “the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything” but is valueless if we don’t know what the question is.
The internet can answer almost any question if you know what to ask. Filter bubbles aside, how can you expand your understanding and gain knowledge if you only ever optimize for the same question being asked over and over? I was struck by this thought recently while on a walk in the woods with my family.
While walking down a trail we saw an older gentleman on the side of the trail looking intently at some of the trees there. As we were about to pass him, we must have looked intrigued because he began telling us what he was looking at. Over the course of five quick minutes he proceeded to teach us about about the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid.
He told us how the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid is not native to the region, but an aphid originating in Asia. It has spread throughout the southern states and has now worked its way north into Pennsylvania and even New York. The aphid is spreads quite prolifically and decimates hemlock populations.
He then showed is how to identify them by looking at the underside of hemlock branches for these white spots.
The gentleman then told us how on his walk that morning he had seen them on most of the hemlocks in those woods. He pointed out the many hemlocks that were already mostly dead and said most of the rest would be gone in the coming years. There is treatment but it is quite expensive. Historically the cold Pennsylvania winters helped control the aphid population and spread but recent winters haven’t been cold enough to continue that natural control.
As we were about to continue on or way, the man pointed out how beautiful the hemlocks were and encouraged us to enjoy them-not only because of the aphid threat but also because they are our state tree in Pennsylvania. As we continued on our walk we noticed more purposefully both the beautiful hemlocks as well as the proliferation of the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid.
I’ve never heard of this aphid before, despite having instant access to unprecedented amounts of information. Thanks to this kind stranger on the trail who was willing to teach us, our walk was given more appreciation for the park and understanding of the quiet events unfolding in our backyard. I was exposed to a five minute snippet that gave me something to research online for hours. For me, it underscored a balance that I’ve been in search of; firmly placing technology as an incredibly valuable tool used to enhance your life experiences, not to be confused with the value of life experiences itself. Technology requires a driver. Get out and drive.