In Praise of Useless Information (by Billy Coffey)

It’s somewhat alarming to think about how many things I forget during the course of a normal day. The exact number eludes me; I forget how many things I’ve forgotten.

There are little things like forgetting where I’ve put my keys and wallet, and also big things like where I’ve put my children. I’ve forgotten appointments, to eat, to set my alarm, and, I noticed today, the fact that the oil needs to be changed in my truck.

The reasons for this may be many or one, depending upon whom I ask. My wife says it’s because I’m too tired, my friends say I’m too busy. Standard excuses for everyone with a short attention span. My mother, however, offered her own reason in her typically loving way:

“Your head’s too full of useless stuff,” she said. “There’s no room for things that matter.”

I thought about that and had to agree that what she said was at least partly right. I wasn’t sure if it were possible to have so much in my head that nothing else could get in, but I did have a lot of seemingly useless stuff stuck in there.

Stuff like the fact that a dragonfly can eat its own weight in thirty minutes. Or that Hollywood was founded by a man who wanted to build a community based on his conservative religious principles. Couvade is a custom in which a father simulates the symptoms of childbirth. Einstein went his entire life without ever wearing a pair of socks. I could go on.

Where I’ve managed to scrape up such tidbits of uselessness is beyond me. So is the manner by which I can remember that John Milton went blind because he read too late at night but not the name of someone I see at work every day.

The fact that I may simply be absent-minded occurred to me. It’s a distinct possibility. I come from a long line of absent-minded people. But that seems like a poor excuse in itself, and I keep thinking about what my mother said to me.

There’s little doubt that we all fill our lives with things that don’t matter, thereby sacrificing some of the things that do. Worry robs our faith, doubt our hope, and discord our love. But is that true for knowledge? Can we know too much for our own good?

Some people think so. I have friends who believe that faith is all they need, that thinking has done nothing but bring the world a whole lot of trouble. Communism, moral relativism, and Deal Or No Deal wouldn’t exist if someone hadn’t thought them up and ruined all of our lives. Sometimes I think that’s true, especially with Deal Or No Deal.

Faith is pretty much the most important thing a person can have. I also think having as much knowledge as possible easily breaks the top three. Because despite what everyone says, ignorance is not bliss. It’s more like a prison cell with walls of our own making.

Of all the inborn traits God sees fit to give us, few are exercised less than our curiosity. Spending some time with the nearest child will convince you that we’re all born with a probing mind. But that somehow gets lost as we get older. We all are tempted to reach a point where we just don’t care to know anything else. We already know enough about the world to realize it’s all spiraling downward. Why pile it on?

I get that, I really do. There are plenty of things I would rather not know, things that would keep my life chugging along rather nicely if they weren’t stuck on one giant playback loop in my brain.

But then there’s this to consider—our world really is a wonderful place. Flawed, yes. And a bit ugly in some places. But it’s also amazing and inspiring and so utterly almost-perfect.

The truth? I want to know everything. Even the stupid stuff. After all these years, I’m still curious. I still want to know. Because I’ve found that the more I can know about God’s world and the people who inhabit it, the more I can know about God and me. If that keeps me from checking my mail every once in a while or not realizing the truck’s almost out of gas, then so be it.

I think we would all be a little better off if we cracked a book every once in a while. There’s too much ignorance in this world. Life, like music, must contain several parts equally. There must be melody and beat. And there must be heart and head. That’s how we dance through our days. And God is a musician at heart.

Just ask the common housefly. Whose wings, by the way, hum in the key of F.

To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at What I Learned Today and follow him on the twitter at @billycoffey.

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22 Responses to “In Praise of Useless Information (by Billy Coffey)”

  1. Denise September 28, 2009 at 2:39 am #

    >Awesomely amazing, as always my friend.

  2. Shark Bait September 28, 2009 at 3:18 am #

    >Whenever I see a housefly, he usually ends in B Flat.

  3. Heather Sunseri September 28, 2009 at 5:54 am #

    >This post makes me smile! My husband, who makes me smile also, has a brain for storing "useless" factoids as well. And, yes, he, too, forgets lots of important things that I need him to remember during the course of a day. But I love him and I actually appreciate that he shares the "useless," but interesting tidbits of information he learns. Thanks, Billy and Katdish, for making me smile today.

  4. Melissa from the Blue House September 28, 2009 at 7:53 am #

    >This is SO me too… Its all about what's interesting. My husband rolls his eyes at the trivia I can pop out with sometimes, but then I can't remember from one Sunday to the next what time Sunday School starts at the church we've been going to for the past 11 years.

  5. Nitewrit September 28, 2009 at 8:11 am #


    And besides, you get to answer all those questions on Jeopardy!

    Larry E.

  6. Annie K September 28, 2009 at 8:15 am #

    >Where did Hollywood go so, so wrong?

    And you forget to eat? That's something a size 0 woman would say. (No offense Billy.)

    And Shark Bait…snort!

  7. Jim Marr September 28, 2009 at 8:41 am #

    >Thank God for the amazing way He created us–trivia and all. But I'm thankful that we don't have to feel bad if we don't quite remember all those trivia things. As long as we remember in whom we live, breath, and have our being! Now how many angels did they say fit on the head of a pin?

  8. Beth September 28, 2009 at 8:54 am #

    >Loved this post! I can relate…and since I married someone who is also a trivia lover but tends to forget what year it is…you can imagine some of the situations we've gotten ourselves into.


    I hope I never lose that wonder and eagerness to learn something new! My one year old is at that stage where he's trying so hard to figure out everything…joy and wonder and frustration…boy is that a lesson every day in how we are with God!

    Shark Bait…zinger!!

  9. Steph @Red Clay Diaries September 28, 2009 at 8:58 am #

    >Useless information lovers, UNITE! My mind contains way too much stupid stuff too.

    And after reading your post, I shall now try to feed a dragonfly, stop reading late at night, become a couvade promoter, convince my husband that if it was good enough for Einstein, it's good enough for him, AND follow a housefly around with a tuning fork.

    It's gonna be a good day.

  10. Helen September 28, 2009 at 9:06 am #

    >I hope I'm not part dragonfly, becomes sometimes I could just…what were we talking about?

  11. Peter P September 28, 2009 at 9:56 am #

    >Around here, house flies are VERY common!

    Maybe we should do worship in the key of F so they can join in!

    Lol to Sharkbait's comment!

    I'm completely with you as I'm an information junkie!

    Great post, as per usual, Mr. C.

  12. Laura September 28, 2009 at 10:54 am #

    >I think that useless facts thing is a guy trait. I have two of them in my household (one being a mere 12 years old and he knows more than his mom ever will about strange things).

    But, what a great way to encourage us to learn more in the Word. My husband used to believe that knowledge was faith's enemy, and sometimes he can still get caught up in "proving" things. But faith is stronger than that human need to hold the evidence in our hands.

    Great post, Billy.

  13. jasonS September 28, 2009 at 12:46 pm #

    >You mean not everyone files away useless facts about TV shows that went off the air 40 years ago & movies they've never seen? Most of my useless facts have to do with pop culture, but I say it's part of my charm. hey, it even helps with sermon illustrations sometimes…

  14. ~*Michelle*~ September 28, 2009 at 1:03 pm #

    >Laughing out loud at Shark Bait!

    So Billy, you wouldn't have happen to have been in New England this weekend, would you? Our pastor just preached yesterday about knowledge and how important it is that we continue to seek His knowledge and teach others the wisdom He blesses us with….he noted on how the word knowledge appears over 20 times in the Book of Proverbs alone.

    I love knowing random tidbits of trivia….especially when I can slow my brain down enough to remember them.

    Great post, Billy!

  15. FaithBarista Bonnie September 28, 2009 at 1:06 pm #

    >I'm with Heather. This post made me smile.

    Everyone's minds catches somethings and retains others. I think that's why it's amazingly interesting to meet and get to know people.

    And yeah, cracking a book open is one of the best ways to jump into someone's thoughts.

    … Like the fly at the humming at the end of your post. Ha! 🙂

  16. Bridget Chumbley September 28, 2009 at 2:07 pm #

    >Some say useless facts…others say, "I am the Trivial Pursuit champ!"
    Either way, I like the idea that it isn't old age that makes me forget what I was going to do before I reach the next room…
    Thanks, Billy. Great post!

  17. Valerie September 28, 2009 at 2:07 pm #

    >HA!! I think this is my favorite post of yours as of yet!! I was laughing yesterday as katdish and I started a random movie quote challenge.. why do these things stay with us??? Perhaps it's our subconscience crying out for some fun.. who knows. "I don't have time to watch a goat fetch soap right now" so have a great day!!

  18. lynnmosher September 28, 2009 at 2:55 pm #

    >LOL! Billy-boy, you must be a sanguine! Or else it's a guy thing 'cause you sound just like my hubby. His noggin is filled with useless snippets of info. I'll tell him about the wings in the key of F. He plays the guitar. He'll probably like that one. LOL! Love this…as always!

  19. April September 28, 2009 at 3:05 pm #

    >I really don't know what to say other than PHENOMENAL!

  20. Ginny (MAD21) September 28, 2009 at 3:30 pm #

    >What a great post Billy! I also have a propensity for storing useless information. And for some reason, I remember that stuff better than I can remember the important stuff. I agree that it's all important, though. What fun would life be if we didn't know the little things?

  21. Candace Jean July 16 September 28, 2009 at 9:51 pm #

    >I have tons of useless facts in my head – somewhere. My filing system leaves a lot to be desired, so I can never "find" said facts. Hubby, on the other hand, can remember who scored what touchdown in an Iowa football game against Michigan in the 3rd quarter in 1974. He also forgets to shut the refrigerator door. To me, the latter would be much more useful.

    Great post. Key of F, really? RB probably knew that. Ugh.

  22. Daveda September 28, 2009 at 11:39 pm #

    >I think we tend to remember the things we find interesting…I imagine if you did not have all of this information stored up, you, would not be you 🙂

    And, from what I read, you seem like a pretty interesting guy…

    I know you can write like no one else, just you!

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