A Hearty Breakfast of Google and YouTube
At 15, I stared at the back of a Cap’n Crunch cereal box. My son has a few million more options.
Breakfast this morning with my son, 15: “Hey mom! Let me show you this commercial I saw during the game!”
He hops online, searches YouTube for a good 10th of a second, and immediately we are watching a very clever commercial for (sigh) PlayStation 4. It features two young men singing Lou Reed’s sweet, dark song, “Perfect Day,” while smiting each other in a ridiculously violent videogame.
I love it. One of Reed’s lyrics, “You keep me hanging on,” reminds me of the Supremes song with that refrain, so it is my turn to search YouTube to play my son a clip of them.
He (being 15) has never seen the Supremes. He likes the song. It reminds him—God knows how—of an Eminem song, so we watch a clip of that, in which Eminem samples Aerosmith. Which reminds me of an article I read in the other day in the Jewish newspaper the Forward about how Aerosmith came up with its hit “Walk This Way.” I Google GOOG -0.53% it and two seconds later read the article aloud:
Mother and son using laptop
“The inspiration for the song’s title came from the Mel Brooks horror-movie parody, ‘Young Frankenstein.’ In the film, Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant, the hunchback Igor, played by the bug-eyed actor, Marty Feldman, wants Frankenstein, played by Gene Wilder, to follow him, and says, ‘Walk this way.’ Frankenstein obliges for a few steps, walking hunched over with a cane, like Igor. The joke itself is based on an old vaudeville routine.”
Naturally, we Google the movie clip and watch it: 22 seconds of genius. Returning to the Aerosmith article, we learn that, “During the recording of ‘Toys in the Attic’ the group had taken a break and went to a late-night showing of the film. When they got back to the studio, they integrated the line into a song they were working on.”
But wait, says son: Run DMC did a version of “Walk This Way” too!
Like 12,004,642 people before us, we now watch this 1986 video. It deserves all those views. That DMC cover brought Aerosmith back from oblivion, even while launching rap into the mainstream—or so we learn from reading yet more about the video.
There are some who say that the Internet is rotting our brains, ruining conversation, zombifying our youth, etc. But Clive Thompson, author of the new book “Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better,” contends that looking up things that lead us to other things is not just engaging, it’s enriching.
“Encyclopaedia Britannica once did a study of its users and they found that the average number of times that the average users looks at the encyclopedia was once a year,” he says. “Why? Because it’s a pain in the butt.”
Googling YouTube clips is just the opposite—simple, fun, immediate. “The proximity of this knowledge turns out to be enormously valuable,” says Mr. Thompson. It’s like having the encyclopedia at the breakfast table . . . but better. We’re not just reading about the Supremes, we’re seeing and hearing them. We’re studying musical influences. But because there isn’t a word yet for this kind of impromptu education, says Mr. Thompson, “we’re prone to feel shameful about it.”
In other words, since it’s not book-larnin’, it looks like a waste of time.
But compared with reading the Cap’n Crunch box? I’m not so sure.
Ms. Skenazy is a public speaker and the author of “Free-Range Kids” ( Wiley, 2010).