I confess, I love to play Trivial Pursuit.
For those not familiar with this particular otium actio, it’s a boardgame created in 1979 by Messrs Chris Haney and Scott Abbott, Canadian journalists who discovered – much to their horror – that some pieces from their *Scrabble* game had gone missing.
Faced with such a calamitous turn of events – one of the aforementioned gentlemen is reported to have made several declarative statements of a less-than-salubrious nature, followed immediately by an apology – these two enterprising Canucks decided to create their own game.
The humans found north of the 49th parallel are nothing if not problem solvers.
The complete version of the game was released in 1981 and has been a popular seller ever since. So much so that in 1993, Trivial Pursuit was named to the “Games Hall of Fame” by Games magazine. This amazed a great many people who had no idea there was such a thing as a “Games Hall of Fame.”
How anyone could function in modern society without that vital nugget of intel is frankly beyond the ability of this correspondent to explain.
Anyway, I said earlier that I love to play Trivial Pursuit: it seems like an age ago doesn’t it? We’ve been through so much together since then. However, we shall soldier on. I mention this not to impress you with my recondite knowledge of subjects both obscure and obvious, but to make a point about the dangers of “trivia.”
The word you understand, not the concept.
Dangers? Oh yes my dear reader. The word “trivia,” and the way it’s used in the modern vernacular, is as pernicious and reprehensible as a Care Bear Sith Lord.
Take a moment and picture that. It’s ok, I’ll wait.
Anyway, to better understand this word, let us dive into matters etymological:
Trivia comes to us, as so many words do, from Latin (via the 405 Freeway and the I-5 in Irvine). It’s the feminine form of the adjective “trivius” meaning, “a place where three roads meet” – None of which are the I-5 or the 405 as it turns out.
The modern English dictionaries define it as, “matters or things that are very unimportant, inconsequential, or nonessential.” It’s where we get the word “trivial.”
And therein lies the problem.
Thinking of any piece of information as “trivial” (or worse, “useless”) is shortsighted and, for the creative, a poisonous and enervating idea.
I understand where it comes from, especially in Western society where it seems as if we’re being inundated every waking moment by information of the most suspect nature. much of this input can be labelled as “trivial,” and it’s totally understandable that we should become circumspect about filling our cranial cavities with such effluvia. We label it as “irrelevant,” “trivial” or worst of all, “useless.”
In response, I would offer the following caveat:
No piece of accurate information is ever truly useless or trivial. A chunk of intel may not be 100% relevant to you now, but, unless you plan on utterly demolishing the laws of physics and temporal mechanics, you aren’t going to remain in this specific moment for the rest of your life.
The act of creativity involves piecing together seemingly unrelated ideas and concepts into new and wonderful things. However, to do that, you need inventory to draw from.
Labelling information as “useless” is shortsighted. It may not be relevant to you, but it almost certainly is to someone.
Beware of universalizing your preferences. That way be dragons.
What do I mean my universalizing preferences? It’s a trap that befalls many media critics, albeit quite innocently. For example, when a movie critic says, “This movie is terrible!” what they really mean is, “If you have similar tastes to my own, you will not enjoy this film.” The first sentence assumes that every one thinks as the critic does, which as we know it nonsense. The fact that reality television still exists is testament to this. The second sentence is closer to the true state of things.
When we label a piece of intel as useless or trivial, we’re assuming, however innocently, that it’s useless and trivial to everyone, and therefore it shouldn’t exist.
This may seem perfectly reasonable when discussing, for example, the bathing habits of various celebrities – a subject upon which I am happy to remain blissfully ignorant – however, my opinion is not a universal one, and that information may very well be useful to someone, somewhere. Thought I’m fine not knowing.
If I may be so gauche as to offer a piece of advice on this subject, I would say this: Be selective with the data you download into your brainbox, but try to avoid labelling information as “useless” or “trivial.”
All data has a use, you simply haven’t discovered it yet.
At the very least, it may help you win your next game of Trivial Pursuit. Bragging rights are awesome.