Two events this week brought home to me the strong likelihood that children born today will be vastly better informed than we are.

The two were this year’s Stanley Cup finals and the National Spelling Bee. Years ago I was on the public relations staff at Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. when my friend and supervisor John Ratterman came out of his office and said: “I’m going home to watch the Stanley Cup on television.”

I must have had a dumb look on my face because our department office manager Beverly Michaels leaned toward me and whispered. “Hockey!” I didn’t know.

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Then this week the National Spelling Bee ended with an unheard- of eight-way tie for first place. The competition judges had simply run out of difficult words (or just got tired of trying to stump the remaining contestants) and gave the crown to the eight youngsters still in the running.

I am older than some rocks and was born long before we had computers or the Internet. Looking things up was tedious and often required a trip to the public library, where all the great reference books were kept.

When I was working on my first and second books (“Moose Dropping and Other Crimes Against Nature” and “Murder at 40 Below”) I had to make extensive use of Loussac Library and the files of The Anchorage Daily News. In addition to its own clippings, The Daily News had inherited the clip files of The Anchorage Times when it folded in 1992.

The News also had a wonderful librarian whose name I’ve forgotten, but she treated visiting writers very nicely even though their work had nothing to do with the newspaper’s job. She also knew where everything could be found and could come back with a stack of vital clippings for you in minutes.

The Internet has changed everything. Now someone needing to do research can sit on his or her couch with an iPad or laptop and get instant access to what seems like all the information in the world.

Sure, there is a lot of garbage on the Internet, what some call fake news, but bright young people can easily recognize that stuff and breeze right by it. Their less astute colleagues may venture forth and come out swinging with appalling misinformation, but dopes will be dopes and not much is going to fix that. The important thing is that it is unlikely to confuse the brighter folks, certainly not for long.

The eight winners of the National Spelling Bee were whizzing through words that most of us had never heard of — and they were consistently spelling them right. They were certainly very bright people, but not necessarily brighter than those who came before them. They simply used their intelligence and the massive pools of information available online to prepare for the nation’s toughest spelling competition. And they all came out winners.

The size of the Internet information pool is growing all the time. The last time I visited Loussac Library the staff was working on digitizing all of its old newspaper and other paper files, a vast undertaking that greatly increased the volume of Alaska information available online.

The implications of this growing trove of information and its availability to bright young researchers suggests that the future will be vastly different than the past. It suggests that incredible new discoveries are likely in medicine, science and engineering, and many other fields.

If I could somehow meet my great, great grandchildren, I would ask for their autographs.

Tom Brennan is an Anchorage columnist and author of five books. He was a reporter/columnist for The Anchorage Times and an editor and columnist at The Voice of The Times.


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