No Questions Asked

I've been told numerous times throughout my school years that one needs to not refrain from asking questions to be a truly good learner. Even simple questions, they say, is a sign of thinking and being in the process of learning. I myself, however, seldom find myself willing to ask questions, not because I have no questions, or I think it is stupid asking simple questions, but that I, more often than not, cannot formulate questions that I feel truly worth asking.

I am not denying that questions are valuable for the learning process — they most definitely are. What I often find reluctant to do — or rather, a waste of time — is the act of articulating the question to someone else (let's define, in this article, “asking”, as “articulating”). You see, this is the age of information, and it is not an exaggeration to say that over 80% of questions, especially those that come when learning about a new subject, has an answer lurking somewhere online waiting to be discovered through searching. More often than not, rather than sending the question to someone else, doing a few simple search queries results is much more efficient, not to mention that people being asked the question may themselves have to find the answer online. This is often the case when someone asks me a question that I am also not 100% sure about. It's not even being lazy — finding someone else to help normally requires more effort, not less, than typing a few words in a search engine. Asking about this 80% of questions, to me, is nothing more than an inefficient use of precious time.

What about the other 20% of questions? In that case, asking the question seldom gets you a single definitive answer, but rather brings about a discussion, which is good if you are prepared for a productive discussion. Unfortunately, when one asks a question simply for the objective of getting an answer, the person is most likely not actually prepared for a discussion. The questioner will only be able to observe others doing the discussion, feeling lonely, helpless and have no substantial point to bring into the discussion, which, for me, causes frustration and nothing is truly gained after the matter. When one actually thinks, does the research, until the point of being prepared for such a discussion, the person would have most definitely already had an answer of their own to the question. At this point, I would not still classify the act as asking a question, but rather an exchange and critique of ideas, which I love to see, but it is not “asking” per se. It is somewhat like the practice of debugging to a rubber duck: when you actually know what you want to ask, you usually have an answer already — even though it might be wrong. That is what discussions are for.

In my opinion, this is also what “the art of asking questions”, a notion prevalent on several tech forums, really expects. For most of the questions one can post brainlessly onto these forums, the answer could be found with no more than a little bit of effort on search engines. For the rest of questions, just throwing a question mark there would not get you anywhere, and can also be considered rude if the question is difficult and do not have a definitive answer, but the person asking the question does not even show any evidence of trying to solve it on their own. What is more valuable is an exchange of ideas and attempted solutions, not questions that literally take seconds to find with a modern search engine.

In other words, the act of asking questions does not imply intelligence. Rather, it is the ability to try to solve problems, think, discuss, and exchange ideas that really makes one gain knowledge. One needs to question and think to be a truly good learner.