Rachel Lynne Wilkerson

Rachel works as a data analyst for the Texas Hunger Initiative, as well as data science lecturer and instructor of calculus at Baylor University. A graduate of the University of Warwick, she studied mathematical physics after being inspired by the thermodynamic spirals that occur when a splash of milk hits a cup of strong black tea.

Dear Data: the Surprising Artistry of Personal Data

The MoMA recently acquired the exhibition Dear Data, a joint collaboration between Stefanie Posavec and Giorgia Lupi. Stefanie describes herself as “an artist whose medium is data.” For 52 weeks, the two artists collected data on the intimate interactions of daily life. They initiated and sought to learn about each other via the medium of self-collected and self-reported data. Each artist would provide a visualization and a key, before shipping off little parcels of data across the Atlantic. The pair explored topics ranging from the number of times they looked at the clock, to the number of physical interactions, the number of apologies in a week, and the number of thank-yous — an entire friendship communicated through data.

Part of the beauty of the Dear Data project is its intentionality. Data acquisition on “human behaviour” is most often a byproduct — information collected passively to track where we spend our money, what ads we click, what we read online, what phone calls we make, emails we send, messages we read. And yet, there is an entire sphere where data has not yet encroached. There are (as of yet) no apps to track our indecision, the number of animals on a neighborhood stroll, our moments of impatience, or the number of times we laugh. Dear Data strives to capture the beauty of these daily rhythms through the unlikely medium of data.

Stefanie and Giorgia refer to the project as “Little data” in contrast to the omnipresent “big data.” The pervasiveness of datafication is inescapable. What we eat is tracked at the grocery store, school attendance and grades are stored online, even our spontaneous late night purchases of several years ago are likely whirring away on a corporate database.

And yet, the mistake of the big data revolution is the tendency to equate new data with new information, and a still further leap to imply that collecting data translates to meaning. We don’t learn new things about ourselves from the apps. We know what we buy, but human motivation remains obscured. Attendance records may be tallied, but databases miss the underlying reason such as illness or family dynamics. Furthermore, often the meaningful relationships in our lives are predicted by the absence of data. Facebook can tell when people are suddenly in a relationship, because the profile picture views drop to zero, the flirty comments are no more. The data encodes this as an abrupt phase transition: from the pixelated world into the territory of flesh and blood.

By paying attention to the little bits of information we don’t often collect information on, Stefanie and Giorgia challenge the status quo of data. Rather than collecting data purely as a byproduct of oft-commercialized endeavors, they exercise agency to collect the data for the story they want to tell from the get go. Cathy O’Neil, resident authority on data science, says that visualization is telling the story of “how the data came to be.” In contrast, Stefanie and Giorgia decide what story they want to tell—what aspect of their lives they want to pay particular attention to in a week—and then they tell it with data. In that sense, the project is deeply counter-cultural. So often, data collection is entirely passive, and the resulting data package is packaged and repackaged and sold around the internet to the highest bidder. It is sold in order to sell you things. Dear Data stands as an example of taking active control of the stories our data tells about us. It hopes to engage the full human and narrative potential of big data rather than taking an apocalyptic luddite stance.

dear data b dear data a

The project sits in an uncomfortable space between communities of statisticians, graphic designers, and data scientists. Is the project art? Data? Does it matter? Work at the boundaries of disciplines like this often feels a bit homeless. Unlike data journalists and graphic designers, Stephanie doesn’t code much. Her data is collected by hand, typed into phones. Data visualization respects certain protocols for the most efficient types of visualization. Stefanie and Giorgia break those distinctions, bending axes, using color, size, shape in ways that challenge the viewers.

dear data horizontal

Much data visualization has a purely pragmatic angle. People look to charts when they want information about the effect on a bottom line, or when they want to represent numbers that have some sense of authority. Visualization aims to cultivate efficiency, whereas the artistry of Dear Data engenders awareness. Stefanie remarked that the year-long process of visualizing personal data heightened her attention to the topic of the week. On the week of cataloguing complaints, she sought to complain less, on the week of laughter, she would deliberately seek out occasions to laugh.

The project hypothesizes that counting may be a form of awareness. As a statistician, I live by a quote from Einstein, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” Dear Data reminds us that but when we stop to count the things that matter, when we truly pay attention, we can create beauty and meaning, whatever our medium.


Rocket Girls

The race to space is often depicted as the last frontier—a rugged landscape that demands smarts as a compass and sheer gumption as the driving force. Usually men are the main characters in the historical narratives about the advance of rocket technology. Nathalia Holt’s book, The Rise of the Rocket Girls, upends such a  perception. As the tagline says, the book chronicles “the women who propelled us, from missiles to the moon to Mars.” Instead of describing women on the periphery of science, in supporting roles as astronaut wives or inspiring teachers, the women or “rocket girls” prove central to the fundamental equations that launched rockets into space and beyond.

The rocket girls worked as “computers,” literally—someone who computes—plugging numbers into complicated equations with a team of engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) during WWII. The laboratory began as a rogue group at CalTech named “the suicide squad,” with a band of daredevils launching homemade rockets into a California canyon. Their work proved tremendously formative for war efforts and the space race, but their impact in forming a more progressive work culture has been overlooked until now. Many of the women who found a vocation there were thrilled to find an outlet for their quantitative skills. One of JPL’s stars, Helen Chow, minored in mathematics at Notre Dame for fun, despite the fact that she couldn’t imagine a place that would employ her. As the launch of each missile and rocket depended on thousands of calculations, the all-women team of computers was absolutely critical to the success of JPL, and later NASA.

Precision in these calculations were vital, as a missing square root could cause an explosion during a test of a missile, endangering the lives of coworkers. They endured long work hours and high pressure situations:

“project could have beaten Sputnik possibly, certainly the women feel like that could have happened, but much of it was held back for political reasons. The women had these positions where they were incredibly skilled mathematicians, and yet they weren’t being given full credit and the full ability to show what they could do.

Still, the women in the book are deeply grateful for the chance to work in such a stimulating environment. As the 40s give way to later decades, they continued the fight against gender norms. Holt captures the magnitude of further shifts in the 60s, “Known as computers since the lab’s inception, they were now officially engineers. It was a breakthrough as big as landing on the moon.”

Holt’s narrative challenged my presuppositions about the role of women in science as a fairly recent development. In the prevailing historical narrative, women who contributed to scientific advancements, the Marie Curies and Ada Lovelaces, can seem like a one-off phenomenon. Instead, Holt presents an entire department of women integral to the success of physics problems of tremendous import. Without Holt’s dedication to uncovering these womens’ stories, their contributions might have dissolved into anonymity.

Rocket Girls paints a robust portrait of the women who worked at JPL, describing their relationships and their families alongside their work. As readers follow the failures and successes of the space race, they also enter into the lives and deliberations of the women as they fall in and out of love, have children and lose family members, leave and return to work. “For most American women, marriage meant being a housewife, but many of the computers had found a way to reconcile the two, managing their home and work lives with the poise of surfer riding a cresting wave.” The portraits of the women are authentic and relatable for any woman balancing relationships and a career. We see their deliberation over marrying when that may mean leaving a job they love. Barbara Paulson, a dedicated employee who manages the lab, is abruptly fired due to the insurance liability of having a pregnant woman on staff. While JPL was progressive in their hiring practices, the women certainly experienced the inequality acutely.

rocket girls 2

The women of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory helped launch the first American satellites, lunar missions and planetary explorations. Those “human computers,” as they were called, are seen here in 1953. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

Once, when a group of men took to calling the women “computreses,” they countered the condescending label by referring to themselves as “the sisterhood.” In this progressive and sexist context, Holt paints a vibrant portrait of the camaraderie of the women who worked at JPL. The demands of their job were often isolating, so the women supported each other. They celebrated life milestones together and made phone calls to those who left after having children. For many years, the group was headed by Macie Roberts, a matriarchal figure who had the highest standards for accurate work and also fostered a convivial atmosphere. It’s telling that minority women felt at home with the group; Janez Lawson, the first African American female hire for NASA, compared her coworkers to her sorority at UCLA.  

Rise of the Rocket Girls should top the list of summer reads for anyone looking to reflect on  balancing life and career as a woman. I loved the wild celebration after a successful launch at Cape Canaveral and the ballroom dancing scenes at the Del Coronado in San Diego. I wanted to high five Barby, one of the earliest computers, when she attended a heart-stopping missile launch in a canyon while wearing a scarf to keep the dust out of her curls. Turn the clock back a few decades and read Rocket Girls to appreciate the women who were pioneers in every sense of the word—from the moon launch to our own work culture.

The Scientific Method at the Metroplex

Hollywood has released a feature film starring the scientific method. In Ridley Scott’s The Martian, special effects take the backseat to a computer from 1996, and hexadecimal digits and botany unexpectedly upstage an impressive cadre of actors. Undoubtedly, science is the mainstay of The Martian. Author of the book the film is based upon, Andy Weir, took great care to create plausible scenarios, only taking poetic license with a Martian dust storm as a plot impetus. In the face of terrifying obstacles, stranded astro-botanist Mark Watney innovates constantly to stay alive, determined to, in his words, “science the shit out of this.”

The film depicts the scientific process with surprising accuracy—we see the failures, the explosions, the setbacks as well as the inspiration from unlikely sources, the persistence in the face of discouraging odds. The filmmakers recognize that scientific advancement rarely, if ever, occurs in a void, and series of bewildering, humorous, and innovative problem solving episodes propel the plot. Limited food supply? Watney rummages through freeze dried meals to find a live plant to farm in Martian soil. Limited water? He smashes together two hydrogen atoms with an oxygen atom using combustion. Flame retardant NASA habitat? Watney starts a fire using shaved wood from a crucifix.

In a movie ostensibly about solitary confinement on Mars, the basic tenets of survival remind us of the communal nature of human existence. Crops spring from potatoes originally intended for a Thanksgiving feast with the crew, and a universal symbol of Christian community fuels the fire.

The Martian isn’t simply an extended ode to science and the power of creative problem solving. Without the fundamental tension of human fragility in outer space, the film could be reduced to the realm of highly amusing instructional science videos. The exposure of life in space, unsupported by our protective atmosphere, enables us to remember our shared vulnerability more easily. Watching a person with flesh and blood, the same blood as ours, kept from imploding by only a tarp and duct tape taps our instinctual desire for survival.

The heroics of science take place within a wider community of caffeine-fueled problem solvers. Scientific breakthroughs happen while heating Ramen noodles in NASA’s cafeteria, or at conference tables with an enthusiastic pitch casting office supplies as interplanetary objects. The six voyagers, their flight commander, the NASA bureaucracy, the coders, the absent-minded graduate students, the industry contacts, the families of the astronauts, form a vast, tenuous support network. Watney is stranded, alone, but at the same time, he isn’t.

The chain of events that leads to Watney’s ultimate rescue depends on international cooperation between countries. We see the fate of one man caught up in a bureaucratic debate, as perhaps countless silent lives are, but the distance and strangeness of his situation kindles an empathy which overcomes divisions that seem so strong on terra firma. One might expect human relationships to take a backseat in a film about solitary confinement on Mars, but instead we see a single scientist sustained by a collaboration that crosses typical earthly boundaries. Watney reflects on his improbable survival,

“If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are assholes who don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do.

Perhaps it is naïve to think that five astronauts would selflessly spend an extra 500 days in space on behalf of someone who they left behind through no particular fault of their own. The notion that rival nations would share cutting-edge defense technology to retrieve a lone citizen abandoned on Mars prompts skepticism. The presentation of NASA as a painfully honest government entity is admirable yet unrealistic.

Yet, seeing Earth as a whirled marble through the window of the spaceship Hermes has a way of dispelling cynicism about its inhabitants. That heart-stopping view and the sheer vulnerability of astronauts somehow stirs what Vaclav Havel names “the dormant goodwill in people.” Havel continues, “The dormant goodwill in people needs to be stirred. People need to hear that it makes sense to behave decently or to help others, to place common interests above their own, to respect the elementary rules of human coexistence.” The heroics of an international cohort on Earth and in orbit to support a solitary man challenge the pessimistic view that society is increasingly fragmented and self-serving. The silent vacuum of space enables humans to listen deeply to the plight of a man on a remote planet.

The Martian shows us those stirred people—the architects of the rover who emerge out of the anonymity of graduate school to troubleshoot communication, the absent-minded student who offers his hasty computations with a blatant disregard for his own success. The industry, government, and academic partners that rally in support of Watney, a self-proclaimed “dorky astrobotanist” are a testament to basic instinct of human decency. The sparks of ingenuity are insufficient to save Watney in and of themselves—his rescue requires ingenuity and empathy. In a genre that tends to glorify science, progress, and interplanetary exploration compounded with a culture that values rugged individualism, The Martian refreshingly reinforces fundamental impulse towards compassion.

As we watch the world, from Taipei to Trafalgar Square transfixed by the unfolding story, we remember our common fragility, nudging us forward towards collaboration and camaraderie as resident Earthlings.

Life at Keleti Station

Andrew McCall Smith notes,

“Regular maps have few surprises: their contour lines reveal where the Andes are, and are reasonably clear. More precious, though, are the unpublished maps we make of ourselves, of our city, our place, our daily world, our life…our personal memories, that make up the private tapestry of our lives.”

In my own map of memory, one particular set of coordinates—the Hungarian train station, Keleti Páyaduvar—cracked and reshaped my understanding of neighborliness.

Keleti Station and its relentless surge of refugees took the front page of the New York Times in the last few weeks. As I flicked through the slideshow of photos, the picture transported me into memory and the next thing I hear is the melodious ding of the train and then the sonorous Hungarian admonitions of the loudspeaker. The mechanical letters flip rapidly to spell the names of destinations and places: Belgrade, Split, Salzburg, Pécs, Bucharest, Lujubjana, Bratislava, Berlin. Tourists mill about with hiking boots dangling from their oversized backpacks; others travel with a guitar and seemingly little else.

As the commuters, holiday-makers, and ticketed wanderers venture beyond the gates, I turn to the front entrance, opening the door with it Art Deco swirls and slipping outside. For me, the real life of Keleti is beyond the station’s steps, with the people who do not have outbound tickets. The indoor rhythm seeps out of the doors, promptly lost amidst the mechanical swoop of halting buses, the hawking of unregulated street vendors, and the chatter of the streets. I take a seat on the steps of the station, observing the unfolding patchwork of city life. Buses lurch along their pathways; the yellow tram pulls away gently. A tangle of streets converges at the station, ushering in people from every corner of the city. As I consider the scene, rooted to the steps, it begins to dissolve and then rewind, shunting me back through memories compounded by months’ worth of twice-daily walks past this particular corner of the world.

Pedestrian traffic is thick—a convergent mess of people in transit. Contrast the long, purposeful strides of the people with somewhere to be with the still points in the scene—the people who stand still amidst the crowd, with nowhere particular to go this morning. Directly on the train station steps, two characters reminisce over vodka long before lunch. They watch the rest of the world march by with equal measures hilarity and jadedness, everything tinged with lament. Nearby, a disfigured man sits with one hand open guarding a carefully rationed bag of McDonald’s fries. He never speaks but his eyes seem to be always open, hard under a dirty blue cap. At the fringes of the square, gypsies set makeshift stalls selling a motley of goods—sometimes belts and undergarments, peppers and tomatoes in spring, even SIM cards. As commuters march straight past, the swinging lilt of a persistent sales pitch follows them.

The man with a mop-like dog stands defiant somehow among the crowd. If the dog has eyes, they can’t be seen through his matted hair. Similarly, the man’s eyes are half hidden by a bush of hair, at least until I look him squarely in the face. Then, one of his eyes focuses on me, and I can see his face clearly for a moment. He mutters perpetually, and sometimes I catch words the way he catches raindrops in his outstretched cup. Most often, I hear “Isten” (God) shuffled in with other undecipherable Hungarian words. As memory and time lapses, the muddy rain creeps gradually up the dog’s fur until his creamy coat is a new shade of brown.

I weave my way in and out of this scene every day for months—a stranger among strangers. Keleti taught me to look the outskirts of town squarely in the face. The beggars and panhandlers, constant islands in swirling traffic, undid my presuppositions about what cosmic accident landed me among the societally mobile. Keleti stands irrevocably in memory as the place that violently cracked my juvenile understanding of justice and drove the real questions deeper—what is it to be a stranger? Who is my neighbor? Where is Christ here among the desperate vendors, the harried commuters, and aimless wanderers?

Hungary recently found its cacophonous answers to those questions on public display. As refugees pour over Hungary’s borders and into their train stations, the response to the stranger becomes a question of international stability. Like McCall Smith’s public map, the headlines show the gamut of responses to the refugee crisis in Hungary—on the one hand the irrationality and callousness of a barbed wire fence and streams of water flowing across blistered feet at the train station on the other.

Keleti taught me that the public map is actually a complex compilation of private unpublished maps. A national response to a crisis is not a one-time occurrence; instead a stance emerges from the dozen intertwined decisions and attitudes we take towards our neighbors every day. At this microcosmic, personal level, I remember a ragtag Baptist church nearby throwing open its doors and ushering in a group of gypsies for regular Sunday feasts. I remember a group of Neo-Nazi teenagers hazing any gypsies unfortunate enough to be caught in their wake. Somewhere in the middle of that spectrum of courage, I remember simply passing by my neighbors every day, rarely speaking, only sometimes daring to lift my eyes to meet theirs. My silly fear of being followed half a block by an insistent woman hungry for coins waving a pair of underwear at my turned back kept me from knowing my neighbor, let alone loving my neighbor. With the ruts we trace along the daily commutes of our unpublished maps, we choose our own isolation or daring feasts.

The Space Between



Amsterdam Centraal, Spring 2012

The two of us race through Amsterdam Centraal in an attempt to catch the evening train to Uitgeest, zigzagging through the crowds and barreling over tulip stands, arriving in time to touch the just closed doors of the train car. My friend and I resign ourselves to a few more hours in Amsterdam without much fuss. As we leave the train station, I look back to see the electronic schedule wiped of information. Peak traffic comes an eerie halt.

Relatively unconcerned, the two of us take off for the most authentic Malaysian food we can find in the Northern Hemisphere. I don’t know, can’t know, that a high-speed train crushed the aforementioned commuter train, our train, like an accordion. As I’m living a bohemian, phone-less existence, I don’t know that the wreck is on the French news, sending my family and friends into a frenzy. I can’t know that it will take me two buses, a wait in a pub, an attempt at balancing on the back of a bike, and a lengthy walk to return to Uitgeest.

Instead, I’m concerned about my friendship. We are irritated with each other; best friends who sometimes push each other’s buttons. Our defenses break down somewhere between satay and green tea. We speak candidly about the challenges of living alone abroad. We talk about topics we’ve been avoiding, questions and fears we didn’t want to face, people we don’t want to lose. The interruption of my travel plans creates space that bridges the momentary interruption of a friendship, and the night ends with a long walk filled with laughter.



Baltimore Washington International Airport, Winter 2013

Shuffling through the airport exhausted, I stop for a highly caffeinated black tea in an attempt to forcibly prop my eyelids open. I sit with my bags in front of the gate, thinking that if I fall asleep, surely someone will jostle me as they get on the plane. The next sound I hear is the final slam of the plane door that reopens for no one. Panic ensues. I’m traveling solo, I’ve fallen asleep, and I have missed my flight across the country. With only late evening flights left in the day, I opt for an inconvenient flight that at least lands me in Texas.

A longtime friend rescues me from an uncomfortable night in the Houston airport. I stood by her as she married her husband six months ago, and I am their first, if unexpected, houseguest. The hyper vigilance and adrenaline that accompany me as I travel segues into an attention to and awareness of Meaghan’s hospitality. I remember the hand-crocheted afghan, the careful cultivation of her library, the squawk of her adopted pet bird. I find myself grateful at the chance to witness the beginning of the home they are building together.

Hawaii (pre long haul)

Hawaii (pre long haul)

Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, Winter 2015

After a long haul flight with my two sisters, the last obstacle between a warm shower and me is a one-hour flight from Dallas Fort Worth to the West Texas town I call home. The plane circles above the airport, and I can see the flat, dusty ground, strangely frosted. After 30 minutes of circling, the pilot announces it’s too icy to land. Low on fuel, we divert to San Angelo, to the bewilderment of the Chicago-based flight crew. After a tarmac wait with drafts of chilled recycled air, we return to DFW, nine hours of travel to nowhere.

We taxi to our grandparents, toting the grime and exhaustion that mark twenty-three hours of travel. My grandmother ushers us in. I would not have chosen to be here; courses to prep, an apartment to tidy, and an inbox to clean tug at me, but I turn to watch my little sister and my grandmother. My sister balancing the hand mixer to make meringue, my grandmother methodically slicing bananas, both of them artfully arranging Nilla Wafers in a green ceramic dish. While washing dishes, I spontaneously fling my sudsy arms around my grandmother. Later, I watch from the stairs as my grandfather pulls blankets toward the couch to make me a pallet. Something about this love and hospitality makes me want to weep.

Grace found me in the liminal space created in the wake of travel delays.

CTRL-F Mindset

A freshman student in an introductory class sent the following justification for purchasing an e-book for single variable calculus: “I prefer e-books almost exclusively, because of their CTRL-F feature.” With images from Dr. Who of the human race walking about in 2533 with Internet access embedded in each person’s forehead coming to mind, I drafted the following responses:“Ah, but books have a similar feature; surely you’ve heard of the index?” and “I believe you will find it difficult to tell your computer to search for the integral symbol.”

This email exchange helped me to articulate a problem that had been gnawing at me for some time—the use and abuse of the search and find function, and its effects on the life of the mind. Because of this quick keystroke, we expect the instant gratification of knowledge. We summon information with constant Google queries, music—almost any digitized music in the world—with a twiddle of our fingertips. Material goods soar through the ether, acquire matter in a mystical warehouse, and arrive posthaste at our doorstep for prompt consumption.

This expectation of immediacy can, if left unchecked, release a subtle parasite in our thinking process—the idea that we need not truly understand what we can instantly find with an Internet search. I first noticed this in myself during my graduate studies. Lost one afternoon in the black hole of Google Scholar searches, I confronted an elusive integral that I ought to have remembered how to solve. My mind—at least, the part of my mind that was craving a sandwich and a warm nap in the sun—shrugged and mumbled “Eh, I can always Google it.”

Thus begins the subtle dependence of the very substance of our thoughts on the instant answers of the find function: “Eh, I can always Google it.” Eh, I don’t really need to remember how to solve that, because now I have the luxury of almighty computational websites with their technically correct step-by-step computational explanations. Eh, I don’t need to write my quotes down in a journal and attribute them to their rightful owners; I can always CTRL-F it in Google Books. Never mind that in the struggle for the integral, I gain irreplaceable mathematical intuition and vital problem-solving skills. Never mind that in the inscription of a quote on a tangible journal page, the quote adheres to my memory.

Accustomed to answers served up in bold font in 0.0067 seconds, working diligently to arrive at an answer has fallen decidedly out of vogue. A crippling fear of acquiring the stigma attached to exerting effort keeps students from venturing an answer in my calculus class. There seems to be little excuse for hard work when you have libraries full of digitized books at the disposal of your string queries.The fear of looking like a bumbling tourist on the London tube has kept me with my nose buried in the A-Z map app, restricting my worldview to the three-by-two-inch screen. It seems a nuisance, an intrusion, to stop and ask for directions in a world where satellites know our very footsteps. As we shirk the vulnerability that accompanies being lost or confused, we miss the chance to think critically about the challenge at hand.

Reliance on search-and-find functions is a threat to our patience, our work ethics, our imaginations, our courage, but the most insidious temptation is a matter of false pride. In a strange world where failure is verboten and hard work is hidden, we’ve fallen victim to the delusion that there is some intrinsic merit in possessing the ability to summon a video of the Budapest Symphony playing Chopin, or a graph of a transcendental equation, or an image of a Monet on command. We do not master the things we search for capriciously on the Internet.

Despite my criticism of the handy keyboard shortcut, I have no wish to do away with the CTLR-F button. I enjoy highlighting a particular word on a page and pulling it from the document like a thread from an intricate weaving. A text editor with an advanced search and find feature enables me to build code by quickly building upon text patterns. Searching for graphs online has led me to creative, beautiful illustrations that serve as marvelous teaching aids. A quick GPS query returned me to a friend’s apartment when I was lost on the south side of Chicago on a quest or Ernest Hemingway’s house. This use of the search and find function is constructive, a far cry from the trigger reaction search wrought from my own distaste of struggling through a question. The CTRL-F key is a simple tool that may be used either to sculpt an argument, or to cater to an indiscriminate consumption of information.

The keystroke mutates from a useful tool to a deleterious mechanical reaction when problem-solving skills begin to atrophy as a result of overuse. The remedy requires elements of humility, honesty, and wonder. Can we acknowledge that instant answers are not necessarily better answers? Are we brave enough to write an integral out on paper and confront it head-on in all its mathematical majesty and accompanying frustration? Do we have enough patience for careful observation when we’re lost? Montaigne wrote, “We can be knowledgeable with other man’s knowledge, but we can’t be wise with other man’s wisdom.” As the body of searchable information careens into ever-expanding territories, may we keep wisdom as a compass.