Not long ago, the standard way “to look something up” was by opening the encyclopedia or going to the library. For today’s romantics, losing the olfactory delight of odorous, aged paper to technology is mitigated by rationalizing the internet as an expansive library in the sky.
“To look something up” is part of an editor’s daily bread. It takes various forms, such as doing some research or fact-checking, and finding words in a dictionary. With our tendency to shorten and cut, “to look something up” quickly becomes “to look up”. And to do that, lo and behold, we need to look up from what we’re doing.
For most of us, that means looking straight ahead at a screen, or slightly up at a shelf, or down at a drawer. For others, it can mean looking up at the sky, at objects in flight, observing something new or just dreaming. Some may occasionally watch a construction crane or the gargoyles on the Chrysler Building in New York City. The lucky few may be in the right place to follow a rocket launch, an unidentified flying object or shout “Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, …”
But it’s 2015, an age swamped in technology and its tools. We don’t really look up; we still look down. Even on an expansive city square or a crowded sidewalk, our heads are bent downward and, more often than not, we’re texting or checking social media updates on smartphones – and doing so increasingly while moving. The film-maker Casey Neistat explored how to introduce some etiquette and concern for safety to this practice in his short, tongue-in-cheek video, Texting While Walking.
So where, ultimately, does the pleasure of “looking up” fit in?
Many may not find any immediate added-value in looking up. But what may seem to be banal experiences can point to something new. Peering up in the supermarket at the open ceiling, with its labyrinth of pipes and grating, could trigger a respect for complexity and a desire to understand it. Looking up from street level at building facades or rooftops may reveal unusual designs and shapes. Another viewing of the Chrysler Building’s gargoyles can trigger an impulse to know more; it pays to look up at them, because gargoyles are everywhere: in Ottawa, Canada; Washington, DC; Zagreb, Croatia; Ostend, Belgium; Dijon, France; and Flagstaff, USA, to name a few places.
If nothing more, the curiosity that moves some to look up may filter down into pens or through to keyboards. Looking something up may take on a whole new dimension.