On the way to work this morning, I listened to "Les Brers in A Minor" by the Allman Brothers. It's from the album Eat a Peach, and it's the perfect length for my 10-minute commute. My mind can wander around while Duane Allman and Dickie Betts noodle their way through the song.
The tune carried me back to a discussion I had in a bar with a couple of friends 20 years ago. We were trying to remember what year Duane Allman died. No one knew for sure, but we all had an opinion. Was it before Eat a Peach came out? One guy said yes, because he remembered that the album came out right before he left for college in 1972. The others disagreed. The discussion was friendly but animated. From Duane Allman, we drifted into talk about other dead rockers from that era: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison. It was a good two-beer conversation. We never did figure out what year Duane died.
Imagine that conversation today:
"I was trying to remember when Duane Allman died."
"Let me Google it."
There's a saying that knowledge is power. My 14-year-old stepson does his homework research on a couch with a laptop. A generation ago, the libraries were filled with students researching papers, surrounded by stacks of reference books. We all had collections of those little yellow "Cliff's Notes" paperbacks to help us dicipher The Odyssey or some inpenetrable Henry James novel. You had to learn how to paraphrase World Book Encyclopedia entries creatively, because you knew every student was using the same source.
Now you just Google the subject at hand and 2,137 links pop up. Instant research. You want an interpretation of The Portrait of a Lady? There's tons of information and probably even a discussion group about it. More knowledge equals more power, right? If so, we're all armed to the teeth.
I can't remember the last time I looked at a phone book. Or a map. Or asked directions (of course, I never did that anyway, even before my iPhone made doing so unneccessary). Some argue (look it up) that when we carry the world's entire accumulated learning in our pockets, that that power is cheapened — that people today have knowledge that is a mile wide but an inch deep.
I don't know if that's true or not. I do know now that Duane Allman died in 1971 — just before Eat a Peach came out. You could look it up.