I am grateful to have a device in my pocket that connects me with the worldâ€™s knowledge. Still, I think thereâ€™s value in knowing stuff. Really knowing it, not just knowing how to look it up.
When I first watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, for example, I knew almost nothing about Chinese culture. Back then, I liked the movie a lot. It was visually beautiful, had a great soundtrack, and the acting performances were moving.
Watching it again with a little more knowledge under my belt, however, was an entirely different experience. Knowing a bit about Daoism and Ruism (Confucianism) opened the characters and their motivations up to me in a way that I missed entirely on my first viewing.
There is a short scene about three-quarters of the way through the film, for example, in which Yu Shu Lien, one of the main female protagonists lights two sticks of incense in front of a tablet thingy with Chinese characters on it. The scene lasts less than a minute. It passed right through my consciousness without leaving a trace the first time I saw it. I didnâ€™t even recall it.
I now understand, however, the â€œtablet thingyâ€ is an ancestral tablet resting on a home altar. She was venerating her ancestors and the look of pain and regret on her face makes perfect sense: she is grieving her lost opportunity to have a family of her own.
A scene that meant nothing to me 16 years ago now carries an almost unbearable poignancy because I know something now that I didnâ€™t know then.
Even if I had a smartphone in 2000, what good would it have been? Would I have done a Google search for â€œtablet thingy?â€ Not only would I not know how to find what I was looking for, it never would have occurred to me to conduct the search to begin with. The scene was unremarkable to my mind at the time.
Life as a whole is a lot like watching a movie in that sense. Knowing thingsâ€“really knowing them, not just where to find themâ€“helps you see things that you didnâ€™t see before, to make connections you didnâ€™t know were there.
When my daughter watches birds, she sees things I donâ€™t see. When my wife reads poetry, she experiences things I donâ€™t experience. When my son opens a box of Lego blocks, he sees possibilities that are lost on me.
Knowing things makes life a richer, more satisfying experience.