Can We Talk About An Owl’s Lifespan?

Alyssa Erspamer. Photo by Melanie Erspamer.

By Alyssa Erspamer

I’d like to know the answer to a question: What is the lifespan of an owl? Yes, I’m curious. So I ask people their opinion to see if I can gain further insight on this undoubtedly intriguing matter.

But then, lo and behold: they Googles it. Every single person whom I ask will Google it and tell me that well, the great horned owl has a life span of five to 12 years. Great, that’s awesome.

But the truth is, the cold facts shipped straight from the Internet do not inspire me overmuch. I could stay at home by myself and just go through every animal and check out their life spans, or look up the exact definition of a word, or search good jokes and just laugh with myself. If I have the Internet I don’t really need any friends or meaningful discussions. Even when I do hang out with my friends, the Internet is ever-present.

Search browsers and readily available information are obviously extremely useful for last-minute projects or quick fun-fact gathering. They do not, however, have a place in a face-to-face dialogue, and I have found that they serve mostly to hinder any discussions that might take place.

I remember one time my family had a long-winded discussion about what actor was in this movie that we had just watched. It got pretty intense, with people taking sides and nobody getting anywhere really in convincing the opposition or discovering who the actor really was. I guess you could say we did not achieve the initial goal of the discussion. But discussions should sometimes be looked at as ends in themselves: If we get no farther than a hearty and long talk we should still be satisfied.

It seems strange that we could actually debate so long on such a ridiculously Googleable question. But we did. And the thing is I cannot remember for the life of me who that goddamn actor was, but I do remember that the discussion took place. If my brother had just looked up the answer to that question, we would have gained knowledge, quickly forgotten, and we would have had to procure other, safely non-Googleable, conversation topics.

In the past people could speak hours on conundrums such as why the leaves fell to the ground, things that now we either know or can look up no problem. We could spite these people for “wasting time” by having fruitless discussions that rarely yielded tangible results.

But they should spite us for our obsession on the literal and the easy. This is partly why conversations nowadays stagnate. We are unwilling to put in effort if we can avoid it, converting social times with friends into social times with our cell phones. I would rather spend time disputing over important topics thank you very much.

Unfortunately, very important unsearchable issues are few and far between. Thus we are limited in what we can discuss, and so many potentially stimulating conversations are lost before they are even born.

This ties into the huge problem, in my opinion, of having easy-access Internet on cell phones. The Internet, for all its virtues, has undeniably hindered the progress of human communication. I’m sure we have all heard our fill on this topic.

But it is important to stress the inability of the Internet to replace human relationships. When someone asks a question in class or among your friends, refrain from simply looking up the answer on your cell phone. A question, I believe, is not always about searching for the correct answer, but rather just for a response. Whatever the question sounds like it is asking, the real query is, will you put in effort to connect, share and grow? Or will you filter this question as though you were the computer and the words were data, letting whatever meaning, emotion, and possibility that was attached to the question die?

So I challenge you now to not look up the answers to these questions. Maybe you do not care about them. But maybe you are interested, and truly I believe humans are perfectly capable of spending an hour discussing a minute detail.

What does it take to put in a light bulb? To where do birds migrate in the winter exactly? Why do the Swedish celebrate Whit Sunday? For how long can you fly a kite?

And what is an owl’s life span?


  1. I love this article, Alyssa! In our family we reminisce about the long dinner-table arguments once had about whether flying squirrels really fly, whether a “pickle” refers only to a cucumber, and what was Jodie Foster’s first movie role. I also rue the ease with which we now put an end to these relationship-building, brain-stretching and entertaining debates with facts found on the phone!

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