Link & Learn: How to Click Your Way Thru History

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So I was reading a chapter from my friend Sue’s autobiography, and it covers the summer of 1956, when she worked at a drive-in theater in Missouri. She kept mentioning ‘ramps’ and I had no idea what those were. (It’s been awhile since I’ve been to a drive-in!) So I ended up looking up ‘drive-in theater ramps’ and that took me to a page on the history of drive-in theaters. I soon learned that ramps were essentially what they sounded like — the graded dirt or paved spaces raked so that cars could drive their front wheels up, and arranged in a fan-shaped design to best see and hear a movie. It’s ground plan is similar to an amphitheater, where the seats are replaced with front-elevated cars. Simple enough. Of course, I couldn’t stop there. I read on, and half an hour later, I knew everything there was to know about drive-ins. Of course I also learned that drive-ins have all but disappeared in this country, and there are several theories as to why that is. One of the most popular reasons was the adoption of Daylight Savings Time (DST).

As you might expect, my curiosity did not stop there, and this led me to the Wikipedia page on the history of DST, and an introduction to each of the countries that use it, those that have abandoned it, and those that have never adopted it. I learned that most of the world doesn’t use DST, most prominently in the parts of the world on the Equator or with temperate climates. It makes sense that climates that experience very little change in the amount of sunlight during the day and with little variability between the seasons would not benefit from altering their clocks. Of course, this irregular time system from country to country wreaks havoc on scheduling, from flights to videoconferencing, and has led to much confusion over the last near-century.  In America, DST was briefly adopted during the two World Wars, repealed after both, until finally become law under the Uniform Time Act of 1966. DST became more widely accepted and supported during the energy crisis of the ’70s. However, it remains controversial to this day. Arizona doesn’t use it, but the Navajo Nation does on their reservations across Arizona, and three other states. That’s not confusing at all. I would have never imagined I could be so interested in Daylight Savings Time, but it was absolutely fascinating to compare the countries that adopted it and how controversial an issue it has been since its inception. As I often do, I consulted maps to help me understand the breadth of this issue, and the countries that failed to get on board. I was spiraling down the rabbit hole, and one click led to another, and my synapses were firing rapidly. The descent continued.

While reading about DST, I came across the British Prime Minister who was serving while an English member of Parliament first proposed the adoption in England. This led me to read about every Prime Minister between 1800 and 1916. Of course, this led to me to researching Parliament, and the division of the House of Lords and the House of Commons. This brought me back to the history of the British Parliament, as well as a thorough reading about Torries and Whigs. By way of internal links throughout each article, I found myself reading entire Wikipedia articles about topics such as the Thirty Year War, the English Civil War, James II, Charles I & II, the Habsburg Dynasty, Roald Dahl, the Glorious Revolution, and somehow, two fascinating articles on TP – toilet roll orientation and the great toilet paper debate. This last one was so interesting, I had to post it on Facebook.

By the time I looked at the clock, I had read dozens of pages on global history, and on a wide variety of topics. I was shocked to realize I had lost six hours. It’s probably good that I don’t have kids. It’s remarkable how easy it is to surf the Net and lose all track of time.

I am no scholar on any of the topics I read tonight. However, I have demonstrated how easy the Internet makes it to know a little about a lot of things. Naturally, at some point, there needs to be more comprehensive and rigorous learning, but there’s also virtue in being able to lose six hours to learning a few new things. I certainly know more than I did a short while ago.

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