Thursday April 27, 2017
One of our Associates, Dr Matthew McFall, is not only an authority on wonder in the classroom and a practising enigmatologist (no, you look it up) he’s also an enigma himself.
Barely connected to the real world of emails and search engines, he prefers his virtual realm of possibilities, puzzles and wonderment. Working with him recently, I noticed a particular trait of his that I have christened the ‘Google pause’. It is a peculiar practice that we would all do well to embrace more often.
Quite simply, when a question comes up, rather than reaching for whichever device is closest to hand to find the answer through an online search as quickly and efficiently as possible, Matthew does something different.
And he thinks.
Now, you might simply dismiss this as old-school Luddism of a man not comfortable with technology, like when a grandparent ends up in in charge of the remote control, but I assure you it is more than that.
Matthew is a professional advocate of wonder and curiosity with the academic credentials to back that up (he’s actually a double doctor, his first PhD linked to Victorian literature, his second on the role of wonder in engagement and learning in the classroom. And don’t get him started on lichens). For him, ‘I don’t know’ is not where the thinking stops but where it starts. Faced with a question, the next question is not ‘Where can we find the answer? but ‘How might we come up with the answer ourselves?’.
This act of stopping, and thinking, is what I call the ‘Google pause’.
All to frequently in the classroom and beyond it, an answer is a satisfying cognitive cul de sac, pursued as rapidly as possible in order to reduce the amount of time spent in that frustrating state of not knowing and having to think for yourself, which can be hard work and so to be avoided. By employing the ‘Google pause’, the internet is not so much the place you go to find an answer as where you go to check your answer. In this way, technology becomes an aid to our own thinking and not the means by which we obviate the need to ever actually engage our brains in any meaningful way.
At a time of dumbing down and false facts, the need for us all to think for ourselves is more pressing than ever. The 'Google pause' is a subtle difference to our daily practice in the 21st century but, as is so often the case, it is the little differences that make all the difference.
As the great Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard P. Feynman once said, 'I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong'.
Dr Matthew McFall is an Independent Thinking Associate and the author of The Little Book of Awe and Wonder: A Cabinet of Curiosities.