Sometimes you wonder how ignorant you can be. Years ago, pre-internet, pre-Wikipedia, pre-Google, pre-etc., you knew there were thousands of things that happened, that had happened, and it was no shame or no crime not to know. You didn’t always have access to a library or to an encyclopedia, or you couldn’t read everything that happened in a daily paper even if you were interested, let alone remember. Thus ignorance was neither a worry nor an embarrassment.
Now you do have to worry when you don’t know the millions, trillions, quintillions of things that happen or have happened. Information is available at your fingertips – literally – whether it’s true or not. (Strange that we used to get information principally through visual and audial means; now we crucially need the tactile as well.) There is no longer any excuse not to know. Hence you feel ashamed (internal) or embarrassed (external) at not knowing what everyone else seems to know, or at least what the people you know know, even if you have no idea in advance what you need to know, or indeed, if you did, where you would look for it among the decillions of bits of information ‘out there’.
So when I hear beautiful harpsichord sonatas of Padre Antonio Soler played by Sungyun Cho at a concert recently, I am enthralled. Why didn’t I know this music before? Had I not been paying attention when it was played on the radio? Or had I even ever heard it on the radio? Then I buy a collection of Soler’s work. And the very first piece blows me away – I play it again, and again. This is fantastic, I say to myself. Soler’s Fandango. Why did I not know this? This is absolutely brilliant. What sublime emotion!
Then the shame comes in. Yes, I had heard of Antonio Soler before, but knew nothing about him. So now with the world of information at my fingertips, I check him and his music out on Wikipedia and elsewhere. He was an extremely productive monk in 18th century Spain, even though much of his music was little known until the second half of the 20th century. And the Fandango attributed to him had become one of the most popular pieces: I even checked it out on YouTube. Yes, at least 3000 people had viewed most of the different recordings there. Wow! Three thousand people, probably many thousands more, knew all about Soler, and I didn’t. How could I not know? Here was a composer who died 228 years ago; he wrote over 500 compositions. Surely I should have known.
This is the so-called information age. You cannot know all the information ‘out there’, but you should know what you ‘need’ to know, and you should know where to find ‘it’ when you need ‘it’. However, even searching and categorizing the centillions of bits of information is becoming a fandango (but people are working on that – see the Economist‘s article of 28 April 2011). But you can still feel shame that you didn’t know what zillions of other people knew. The information age has embalmed ignorance with shame, but not embarrassment.
Yet I get the smug satisfaction of finding that the YouTube recordings don’t sound as good as the version I purchased.