Opinion and Forefront

KETZENBERGER: It isn't about the destination; it's about the quest

March 15, 2014

Ketzenberger
When I was a kid with a tank full of cheap gas and nothing but time on my hands, I’d drive all over the countryside trying to get lost.

It wasn’t hard at first, especially when I got up on the bendy roads around Hamilton Lake. Before long, though, I learned to read the electric wires and tree lines, figure my direction by the sun and time of day. I’d get home with ease.

I thought about this when I discovered the compass on my new iPhone. With the tap of a finger I’ve got my latitude and longitude to the minute, my direction to the degree and, with another flip of my finger, a planar level just for grins.

I suppose that’s useful if I flip the car or decide to check a barn-door’s level up near the Powers Church.

Then I read an interesting interview with Ben H. Winters, the local author whose “Last Policeman” trilogy comes to a head in July. Toward the end, he’s describing his love/hate relationship with technology, specifically the Internet. Of course, the interview was conducted by Public Libraries Online.

Anyway, Winters’ trilogy is about a cop who continues to solve crimes while an asteroid barrels down on Earth and society crumbles all around him. “One of my favorite things I did in [second book] ‘Countdown City’ was destroy the entire Internet,” Winters said.

One scene juxtaposes the stoic detective with a man aimlessly thumbing his now-useless phone outside a library at the University of New Hampshire. The aimless man is so close to information and so far from being able to use it.

How many of you have watched a Sonny Landreth video on YouTube and then followed the suggestions through Duane Allman, Derek Trucks and Ry Cooder? That diabolical YouTube algorithm doesn’t know the joy of slide guitar, but it sure helps me find videos of the greats.

I found a lot of good music at the Sound Gallery on Ninth Street in my hometown by simply thumbing through the albums. Steve behind the counter sold concert tickets to me out of a change bag from City National Bank.

No, nostalgia’s not the point here; curiosity is. Or, rather, the dearth of it. My iPhone will produce pristine digital versions of any song that pops into my head and I can use it to buy tickets for any show that rolls through town.

Clever algorithms readily available through handheld technology make it easy not to think, not to wonder how something works or whether I might find a really cool book if I just keep reading blurbs.

I’m not that guy by the library, though, thumbing his dead phone. Technology for me is not a substitute for natural curiosity.

You know, the curiosity that makes you cut a U-turn on the state highway to read the historical marker. The curiosity to step inside the restaurant because the menu posted in the window caught your attention.

Would I understand how county roads are numbered if all I had to do was follow Siri’s turn-by-turn directions? Would I have found “South of the Big Four” by Don Kurtz if I skipped my ritual of browsing the new fiction shelf at Central Library and just let the algorithm be curious for me?

Maybe.

The fun, though, is in the search. Gas costs a lot more and I have to drive farther these days to find the countryside, but it’s still good to get lost.•

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Ketzenberger is president of the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute, a not-for-profit dedicated to non-partisan research into the state’s tax policies, and tweets at @JohnKetz. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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