Saturday, April 04, 2009

A trivial matter ...

Oh and while we're on the subject of inner cavemen ...

Why do we find trivia fascinating? Or let me re-phrase that ... why do men find trivia fascinating? I've added this gender modifier because my limited research seems to indicate that it is something that men find far, far more interesting than women do. In fact, a friend of mine once sagely said 'Men invented trivia. Then women added the L to the end'.

I remember a couple of years ago, after watching an episode of QI being filmed at the London Studios, I got into a discussion with one of the production team. He was bemoaning the fact that it was 'really hard to find female guests for the show'. This had nothing to do with intelligence, or sharpness of wit, or ability to come up with a snappy response ... it was simply that very few of the lady comedians, writers and actors he'd spoken to knew much trivia. So I watched a few episodes yesterday and, sure enough, with the notable exception of Ronni Ancona and Jo Brand, most of the female guests are funny, clever and hilarious to watch ... but they didn't impart much in the way of new facts. Even stalwart Jo Brand mostly contributed funny lines rather than facts. So is there a male/female divide when it comes to trivia?

I've just finished reading two books that posit a view on this very subject. First up is Mark Mason's excellent The Importance of Being Trivial in which he (with help from several scientists and the people behind QI) discuss the subject in depth. Their conclusions? I won't spoil the book for you but you can rest assured that they see men and women as equals and equally wonderful ... but very different. Then there's Rory McGrath's charming semi-autobiography Bearded Tit in which he suggests that what we call 'trivia' is simply the modern equivalent of what our male hunter-gatherer ancestors relied upon to get them through the day. It was important to know what kind of bush offered the least toxic berries. He needed to know that the direction home could be found by way of a particular mountain peak. It was handy to be able to identify individual species of animal. And it was important to know where water-holes and rivers were and what kinds of fish were good to eat. He had to know stuff to survive. The details were possibly live-saving. And as time went on, he collected things too. Useful things like a decent stone for flint-knapping, a sharpened horn for punching holes in leather, a handful of sphagnum moss to treat wounds. Is this the earliest origins of the desire to collect things, whether actual items or simply facts? Collecting, while not exclusively a male preserve, does nevertheless seem to be more manic in boys than girls. I don't see many women on train platforms collecting engine numbers. I don't often read about women collecting antique door knockers. And visit any renowned bird-watching site and there will be more beards than bras. Women, it seems, have more sense. Or, at least, more common sense. Men are good at the detail. Women are good at the intuition.

However, although QI finds it tough to find female guests, the viewing figures show that slightly more than 50% are women.

How very interesting.

14 comments:

Mark said...

The question is, is this inborn or socialized behaviour?

chris hale said...

Stevyn, I don't think it's purely a gender thing; it's my belief that trivia collecting is a generational thing too. You and I are pretty much the same generation and are 'into' such information gathering and storage; but I suspect our children are not, unless it be in relation to a particular TV series or game.

Just a thought.

Planet Me said...

Why? Men collect facts and trivia as part of an endless tapestry of reality, as if "if I know everything the whole world will finally make sense".

I could be flippant and say that since women know everything ANYWAY, but more likely, they just find different ways to make sense of the world.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

You're probably right about trivia, Stevyn, but when it comes to collecting maybe not ...

Most of the women (giraffe or human) that I know, collect things. (I'm not aware that I know anyone who collects engine numbers!)

Stevyn Colgan said...

Some interesting viewpoints there. As I always say, these can only ever be my own views. And if they are occasionally a bit controversial, all the better. Writing something that everyone agrees with is hardly going to generate intelligent debate is it?

SweetPeaSurry said...

I actually really enjoy trivia myself. But I did get some funny looks on your statment about 'women adding an l on the end". He he he.

We have a trivia game nationwide that you can play in bars called NTN trivia. I just LOVE that game!

Stevyn Colgan said...

Surry - Ah yes but lots of ladies enjoy trivia - hence QI's viewing figures. But do you actively seek it out and hoard it? Did you know, for instance, that all of George Foreman's sons are called George? You see? No use whatsoever but damned if I can forget it.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Raph - I forgot to ask ... what sorts of things do the ladies colect. What I didn't make clear is that men seem to me to gather stuff that isn't that useful in the real world. Most of the women I know collect useful stuff; chinaware, glass, etc. which may be an extension of the wholly natural and to be much applauded instinct for 'nestbuilding'. There's not a lot of use in a house for baseball cards and railway bridge plates.

Stuart Peel said...

Well I'm a man and I must confess that trivia doesn't fascinate me. This may be the reason that I never liked QI, amongst other things.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

What sort of things do the ladies collect? Well, my delightful other half collects: shoes, plants, books, photographs, ornaments, clothes, art and craft equipment, useful source material for art and craft, shoes, empty joghurt pots, seeds, greeting cards, shoes, A4 ringbinder files in different colours, quotes, and friends! (Oh and she does have a bus stop in the utility room ... )

Stevyn Colgan said...

Raph - A giraffe that married a magpie!

Raph G. Neckmann said...

Ah, but it is a perfect match - we think as one!

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