Save the Earth and Find a Hair Gel
On most days, the online forums for Yahoo! Answers have all the gravity of hair salon chatter. Anyone can post a question about anything and anyone can respond. It’s a sort of democratization of authority, wherein utterly unqualified and generally anonymous poseurs can dole out counsel on questions about everything from losing weight to gaining wealth. So, it is interesting that a few arbitrarily selected thinkers of note have agreed to visit the site — not to answer questions, but to post their own.
It seems unlikely, but perhaps there really is someone out there who has an easy answer — somehow overlooked by experts — to the all-important question from one of those thinkers, Stephen Hawking. Mr. Hawking, the pre-eminent physicist and author of “A Brief History of Time,” asked, “In a world that is in chaos politically, socially and environmentally, how can the human race survive the next hundred years?”
Within days, more than 20,000 responses poured in. “Lighten up,” one responder chided Mr. Hawking — interesting advice for a theoretical physicist whose Web site says he works on “the basic laws which govern the universe.” But many others took the question in hand in thoughtful ways. A number of respondents put their faith in prayer. Some simply urged personal sacrifice. Responders even debated the value of saving life on earth.
Others echoed Mr. Hawking’s previous words on the subject back to him, suggesting it might be time to begin preparing a new home, perhaps a colony on the moon, or Mars. In recent years, the physicist has been anticipating the end of humankind’s ride on earth, once warning that a biological episode — a virus or other contagion — could make leaving the planet necessary.
Other celebrities who have contributed to the Yahoo site include Al Gore, who asked about what could be done to reverse the effects of global climate change, a well-received query to the masses that echoed the themes of his book “An Inconvenient Truth” and the movie of the same title.
Bono, the rocker and humanitarian, asked for ways to end world poverty, his project for the last several years. The number of responses to Bono — nearly 30,000 in five days — topped all others.
The celebrity queries may be intended merely to draw more people to Yahoo. And they may serve no other purpose than to get those visitors to use some of their time online to think about more than what movies to see or makeup to buy. That’s not such a bad thing for a medium that is often criticized as a way of wasting time. And it means there are no wrong answers.