“There are no stupid questions,” a phrase that is often said to stimulate the building up of knowledge. The more questions are asked, the more knowledge is acquired.
Nowadays, a lot of question answering is done by Google, Siri or Alexa, devices that replace the teacher looking back at us from the front of the classroom or the books carefully scanned and selected for clarification.
The instinctive truth-seeking drive that we have as humans can these days be satisfied by technology and as question asking has moved online, so have the ones that answer the questions, not robots, but real people.
Community-driven websites like Answer.com, Answers.yahoo.com or Quora.com have created a space for those who are looking for answers from real people, about anything and everything. From discussion-type questions to questions that require one-word answers and could thus also just be put into search engines.
These answer-hungry communities seem to attract more answer seekers than Siri and Co. They do not only provide answers but also space for discussions to take place and thought-out answers and explanations. Many of these platforms also have point systems, to reward and encourage participation as well as rules that forbid discrimination.
There is always somebody online and ready to help, wherever he or she might be in the world. There are probably not many questions that have not been asked, and yet there is still always someone there to answer. Posting a question on answers.yahoo.com one will most likely receive a response within minutes if not seconds.
Human curiosity is found at its best and worst on these platforms that represent well how much time, and energy is devoted to the pursuit of knowledge. But who are the people that hide behind pseudonyms, or not, and try and answer life’s perplexing questions, one at a time?
A member since 2008, Jeff is 54, from a small community in Michigan in the US and has a Bachelors Degree in Education with a major in English and a minor in History. On Answer.com he goes by the name of C.Hainsaw.
Jeff is a husband and father of three and grandfather of three also: “I discovered WikiAnswers by accident one day and was instantly hooked,” he recalls.
There is no specific theme to the questions Jeff answers, anything from food to the Illuminati have teased answers out of him – a total of 12,592 answers to be exact (at time of publishing) and if every question took one minute to answer that would be about 209 hours’ worth of work.
Question platforms have been around as long as the web itself; they have just changed in shape and form. They have developed from one-sided question to interactive discussion boards, where people do not have to be specialists, only interested, to respond to questions.
Woodwose is a graduate Chemical Engineer, although his professional work, he says, has generally been of an environmental nature. He is another professional ‘answerer’, who enjoys responding to an eclectic mix of topics which includes environment, maths, chemistry, Buddhism, tea brewing, atheism, Haggis and the Loch Ness Monster.
Even to the question of his own age, he does not have the usual answer in store: “On those ‘tick the box age questions’ I usually go for ‘over 60’ although I came across a photo of an elderly cleric in Lima Peru who shares both my name and face. As the photo was taken in in 1880, there is a chance I am in a nasty reincarnation loop that sees me spending lifetimes as a +60 gentleman,” he explains.
Providing clear and direct answers to a broad range of questions is essentially Woodwose’s motivation for answering sometimes very absurd questions from strangers – putting some order into a mess.
“How can you stop being afraid?” This is the favourite question Jeff has ever answered, he says. However, next to personal questions anything from “Where is Hogwarts?” to maths problems, the name of a specific fruit, historical events, relationship advice and conspiracy theories, has been asked and answered, accurately or not. “To me, the Answers.com group is essentially the largest game of Trivial Pursuit going,” Woodwose explains.
Jeff who has worked as a teacher and also considers himself a life-long student says that there is nothing more humbling than to have to tell a room full of kids, “I don’t know.”
Helping people online, in some way is just an extension to teaching, they are, after all, both ways to share knowledge and educate.
“We all seek to find who we are, what we are meant to do in the world, in what we are expert.” says Jeff, “I learned long ago that I’m expert in nothing. But, I am skilled in many things. I think of myself as a pluralist and a facilitator. I help people with what I know.”
Featured Image by The Digital Artist via Pixabay CC.