Beyond the Search Bar: Reclaiming Deep Curiosity in a World of Instant Answers

Reclaiming Deep Curiosity in a World of Instant Answers: How Digital Abundance Influences Our Curiosity; Part 3 of a 6-part Series on Personal Growth.

Beyond the Search Bar: Reclaiming Deep Curiosity in a World of Instant Answers
Image created by Eric Kerr (@_humanintheloop Instagram) using Midjourney v6.

How Digital Abundance Influences Our Curiosity; Part 3 of a 6-part Series on Personal Growth.

If you’ve arrived at this piece first, I suggest going back to the start with Part 1, Sit in Your Discomfort, before beginning this article.

“The most curious among us are driven by an endogenous motivation to explore, not simply answer.” — Dr. Vivienne Ming, neuroscientist

#3 Be Curious.

I like asking questions.

They're the kind that are pointed, go deep, and might be a bit too personal for someone I just met.

I can't help myself. It's in my nature.

I'm compelled by an innate curiosity about people and the world.

It's almost insatiable.

Like a hydra, with every answer, more questions come to mind.

With each answer, I go further in my quest–one I've chosen to embark on–hoping it potentially brings me closer to knowing you.

No matter how much you think you know about a topic or someone in your life, there is always more to know.

For years, I tiptoed around topics and muzzled myself from blurting out every question that came to mind. I was afraid of being too much for people.

It has taken me many years to embrace this defining personality trait—one that I believe is severely lacking in our modern reality.

Has easy access to information made us lose our ability to be curious?

When directions or answers are just a Google search away, do we run the risk of losing our curiosity for discovery and the desire to truly understand the complexities of our lived experience?

Has the constant stream of information, easily accessible at our fingertips, may have dulled our sense, losing our sense of wonder and making us take it all for granted?

I have more questions than answer, but I can't help myself. I'm curious. Always been. And Star Trek is probably to blame.

Yes, I’m a Sci-fi nerd. 🖖🏼

As a kid, I’d sit in my grandmother’s yard and gaze up at the stars.

On summer evenings in North Carolina, with the buzzing of cicadas underscoring another muggy night, I wondered what was out there.

On those nights, I wasn’t dreaming of space travel or wondering about life on other planets. With the vastness of space above me, my curiosity remained within Earth’s atmosphere.

Like Fievel in An American Tail, I’d look up at the night sky, curious who else was transfixed on the celestial lights that had traveled so far to be seen.

Whether halfway around the world or right next door, I’ve always been curious about people, eager to know what their lives are like, what motivates them, and what it would be like to experience the world through their eyes.

Had my creative side not dominated my decision to study theatre, I probably would have been a psychology major.

Curiosity is innately human — an evolutionary trait that helps us make sense of the world.

An encounter with something unexpected or complex can lead us toward exploration and potential discoveries.

Yet we’ve heard the stories and been taught the myths warning of the pitfalls and consequences — our punishment for being too curious.

However, the depths we are willing to go to in search of truth are entirely up to us. No matter what anyone says.

It does require time and effort to be curious — to set aside assumptions, ask meaningful questions, and allow room for nuance — that entire spectrum of possibilities beyond the simple binary of black or white.

Unfortunately, with all our technology, the wealth of information at our fingertips, and recent AI innovations, we’re still human animals with lazy brains¹ and a propensity for shortcuts.

Has the ease of accessing information made us lose our ability to be curious?

The Price of Convenience

I understand that cultivating curiosity in our daily lives isn’t easy. This is the era of distractions.

We’re competing with the rapid pace of technological advancements and the constant pull of our attention in a million directions — further and further from one another.

We could blame TikTok for our attention spans shrinking to under a minute² or the products of convenience — the apps and gadgets that “give” us back time and make us more productive.

We have an insatiable hunger for entertainment (and make it quick!), consuming content at a rate that gives the title Fast Food Nation an entirely new meaning.

We expect Google to instantly provide us with a treasure trove of answers (along with an abundance of ads) to whatever questions have piqued our interest.

We avoid the depth of conversation and are intolerant of anyone who aims their curiosity at us, questioning our expertise.

Our pocket computers have convinced us we know everything, and searching for information online is the same as accessing knowledge from our brains.³

Using the breadcrumbs of data we scatter across the digital terrain, algorithms curate our online experiences, instigating conflict and keeping our focus on whatever will hold our attention the longest.

Greater access to AI technology allows scammers and political agitators to flood the Internet with disinformation and fake news.

Don’t believe anything online until you’ve validated its accuracy!

Echo chambers continue reinforcing our rigid beliefs, conditioning us to be intolerant of challenging conversations.

It’s safe hanging where you know you won’t be challenged, sitting around the proverbial campfire, kumbaya-ing with people who share your ideology.

We’ve raised an entire generation on instant gratification. Yes, Gen Z.

They inherited a vast library of knowledge–along with shallow content, conspiracy theories, rage tweets, and porn, lots of porn.

But, we didn’t teach them critical thinking and reading comprehension, according to college professors.

We removed all the friction and obstacles out of their way. Then we wonder why they’re anxious at work, and we scoff at their inability to tolerate uncertainty and conflict.

I’m not saying my generation had it any better. I’m an elder millennial; we were the latchkey kids left home alone to be raised by cable television.

I would spend hours flipping through channels while in clear line of sight, a complete 1986 15th Edition 29-volume set of Encyclopedia Britannica collected dust on the shelves. What!? Curiosity can only do so much.

Having the internet would have been more fun.

Image created by Eric Kerr (@_humanintheloop Instagram) using Midjourney v6.

Without Resistance, Muscles Atrophy.

So, you want to reconnect with your curiosity, yes?

Building muscle requires us to exert effort. We start where we are and what we’re capable of and then gradually increase our efforts over time. 

As heavier weights become less challenging, we add more resistance.

If you haven’t been to the gym in a while, like me, you wouldn’t walk in and b-line to the heaviest weights. Right? That would be overwhelming and we’d hurt ourselves.

Now, apply the same idea to curiosity.

We crave new stimuli to spark curiosity. Too much is exhausting and leaves limited mental space for exploration.

Balancing our desire to be curious with the weight of input we take in every day is the key to preserving our sense of wonder.

I explored this tension in another Medium article, “The Curiosity-Stimulation Paradox,” recounting an amusing back-and-forth dialogue I had with ChatGPT.

The Curiosity-Stimulation Paradox
Why do people seem less curious about the world? I use ChatGPT to help me work through my theory.

Curiosity is an iterative process of detecting gaps, seeking information, building understanding, and feeding subsequent curiosities.

Staying with the workout theme, let's pretend I'm your personal trainer. And before we start lifting weights, we need to get you warmed up.

Let's start with this visualization exercise first.

Stretch Your Capacity for Curiosity [Exercise]

  1. Think back to a time when you were a kid.
  2. What piqued your childhood curiosity, filled you with wonder, and prompted you to learn more?
  3. Let the free associations and random images flood your mind.
  4. Sift through the obvious memories — school field trips, holidays, and family vacations — gently moving the not-so-great memories to the side for another time.
  5. What memory did you land on? What captured your attention back then and has stayed with you ever since?
  6. Did you follow your curiosity, or did something or someone hold you back?
  7. Sit in that memory for as long as you need.

Now, staying connected to that childlike curiosity, read through the suggestions below.

Find at least one that resonates and commit to putting it into practice today and over the next week.  

8 Impactful Ways to Be Curious 

  1. Don’t Be an Ass. We all know less than we think we do about the world, our community, and the people in our lives.
  2. Ask Open-Ended Questions. Instead of “Did you like that book?” ask, “What about the book surprised you?” This allows for a dialogue and gives you an opportunity to be quiet while they answer your question.
  3. Understand Before Being Understood. When discussing a controversial issue (or any topic), make an effort to understand the reasoning behind opposing viewpoints before jumping the gun and inserting your opinion into the conversation.
  4. DON’T Believe Anything on the Internet Without Validating the Information First!!! That also means don’t share, like, or comment until you know what you are sharing, liking, and commenting on first.
  5. Be Mindful of Your Surroundings. Observe your surroundings with a questioning, not critical, attitude. Go for a walk (without your phone) and notice colors, textures, people, sounds, smells, and light. 
  6. Be Gentle with Yourself. Nobody knows what the fuck they’re doing. Remind yourself of this when you feel frustrated learning something new or when you’re being hard on yourself. Take a deep belly breath. I applaud you for putting in the effort to try to learn something new. Now, back to it. 
  7. Let the Journey Be the Reward. Acknowledge the infinite number of moments along the path toward your goal. Experiment with reframing your perspective so that the journey of acquiring knowledge becomes the reward.
  8. WRITE. Take a couple of minutes before bed and when you wake up to reflect and write anything that comes to mind. I’ll expand on this in a future post, but trust me, things get real when you write them down.

I’m curious if you have any other suggestions. Share your suggestions and your thoughts about this piece in the comments.

For now, I leave you with this…

“It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day.” — Albert Einstein

If you enjoyed this piece, share it with someone in your life who would appreciate it.

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[1] Our brains like to reduce cognitive effort by finding mental shortcuts. This helps to conserve energy for when there is a threat. Information about the layout of your bedroom or the path of travel you always take to work is assumed unless something changes like you step on something on the floor or someone merges into your lane.

[2] We spend an average of just 47 seconds on any screen before shifting our attention. It takes 25 minutes to bring our attention back to a task after an interruption. And we interrupt ourselves more than we’re interrupted by others.

[3 ] Research study shows that using Google to answer general knowledge questions artificially inflates people’s confidence in their own ability to remember and process information. When information is at our fingertips, we may mistakenly believe that it originated from inside our heads.

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