Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Trivial Pursuits?

So I teamed up with some friends of mine from the Korbel School to compete in the first ever Institute of International Education Denver WorldQuest trivia competition. It was sweet, not least of all because my team won. Actually, we tied with the IIE's own team, but they were just doing it for fun. Plus, they had three Fulbright scholars from three different continents! We won Premier memberships and a VIP happy hour. Sweet!

The questions ranged from identifying Angela Merkel to figuring out which countries DON'T border China. The last round was "World Languages." I got excited because my undergrad work was in language and linguistics and such. One of the questions asked us to identify the number of different ways of expressing the Japanese language. I knew before I saw the multiple choice that it was 4. Not only that, but I knew that they were called Kanji, Katakana, Hiragana and Romaji. We got the question right, but it left me wondering: Why on earth do I know that?

I don't speak Japanese, and probably never will (it's about 8th place in my list of languages to learn). I've always viewed the acquisition of knowledge (even the "trivial") as something like the Boy Scout motto. Be prepared. I guess I keep hoping that one day I'll bump into some eccentric millionaire who's desperately searching for someone to explain to him the importance of the Convivencia or the history of Ireland or the distance from the earth to the sun or the number of languages in Papua New Guinea or the way to make a teabag float in midair.

If I never meet that eccentric millionaire, then are all these bits of information, some a mile wide and an inch deep and some and inch wide and a mile deep, really worth learning?