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Google Is Ruining My Only Superpower: Useless Facts

by Damon Brown | July 30, 2011July 30, 2011 6:00 am PST

When I was a kid, I was the family almanac. When is the next full moon? What does S.C.U.B.A. stand for? What was the name of Bruce Willis’ singing alter ego? I had a ridiculously good recall for “interesting” facts, fed by a chicken or the egg relationship with trivia. At 7:30, I’d drop everything to watch, nay, participate in Jeopardy on TV, thinking that Wheel Of Fortune was for wimps. Trivial Pursuit was just as awesome, but the questions nearly required that you have hit puberty – anyone born in the late ’70s wouldn’t know what the hell they were talking about.

I was a monster at bar trivia, though, when family night would spill into the local food pub, the TV monitors flashing questions at lightening speed, and I’d smack the answers into oversized keyboard getting stinky blue cheese and sticky wing sauce all over everything. I was a superhero with one superpower. My knack for facts made me useful before I had a date, a real backbone, or a true calling. Organizing occasionally useful information was my identity.

I’ve moved on (at least, I hope so!). And thank the gods I did – my former superpower today is as useless as a Yellow Pages. The problem, of course, is the very thing you’re reading now: the Internet. Rather, the issue is the accessible, organized Internet. Google has rendered my past self unnecessary.

In fact, many major tech companies are using speedy useless facts to shill product. Did you catch the latest batch of AT&T iPhone commercials? In one, a woman is totally owning a radio station trivia contest because she can Google answers while she’s on the phone. In another, a guy bets his friend which year a song came out, but renigs when he looks it up as he’s talking to him on the iPhone. Fellow trivia nerds, we will not be needed anymore.

It makes me think about Nerdus Triviamus Emeritus Cliff Clavin, the annoying, but useful mailman in the classic ’80s sitcom Cheers. (I’m now realizing that I watched more TV in my first decade than I did in the following two combined.) Set in a Boston bar, Cheers would have sexy tension between Diane and Sam, hilarious barbs by Carla, and overdeveloped psychoanalysims from Fraiser (whom would have his own self-titled spin-off). Among this motley crew was Cliff, an otherwise idiotic postal carrier who knew absolutely nothing about anything, but everything about nothing. His brilliant ramblings about, say, how people are in the Hoover Dam cement, were funny, ice-breaking nonsequiturs that helped make Cheers one of the most popular comedies of all time. If NBC were to pull a Charlie’s Angels and remake Cheers today, Cliff wouldn’t have a designated spot at the bar, if on the show at all.

Don’t color me sad, as both you and I are in the greatest information era in modern history. I’m happy to be here. I’m just thinking that my 10-year-old self would have been pretty miserable.

Photo courtesy of charliecurve

 


Damon Brown

Damon writes CBS's Gadget Watch and is the U.S. Editor of Pocket Gamer. He also writes books about music, sex, and tech. Damon's latest is The...

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