Let’s establish something right off the bat: Knowing things is the worst.

I’m not referring to some sort of “ignorance is bliss” ideology, or the distress of comprehending the world’s problems, or even the annoyance of being unable to recall something you are positive you know when you suddenly need it. Rather, knowledge is the worst because of the frustration I get from trying to remember what it was like not to know something. It’s something that educators and people in communications positions understand deeply and must deal with constantly: the challenge of communicating or teaching something you understand to someone who is uninitiated to the topic.

It’s terrible.

This problem, called the “Curse of Knowledge,” is something I run into primarily in two very specific situations: when writing essays about topics I’m entirely familiar with, and when I’m talking to kids and trying to remember what I knew at their age. Had I already learned about the planets in this grade? Would it be strange for me to ask this student what they might want to study after high school? When was it that I realized that the only thing I really need to know is that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell?

Thus, I’m taking a very special opportunity here to lay out some of my current knowledge and assumptions on a very specific topic before I have the chance to ruin it with actual experiences. This weekend, I’m turning 21 (insert party horn noises here), and I will be permitted by federal law to partake in the consumption of ethanol. Along with this rite of passage, there will come some opportunities to try certain activities I’ve never had the (legal) opportunity to try out — namely, bar-hopping. Currently, I have a variety of sources and media that I can draw on to paint a picture of what I think bar life is like, but I really can’t be sure just yet what is and isn’t true.

So, to date, the mental picture I have of bar-going is this: My night will start with either an encounter with a meaty bouncer outside a bar whom I must battle for entrance, or I will kick my way through double doors to stand in some dusty, sepia-colored light while the saloon goes quiet. Considering my plans for my birthday outing, both seem equally possible.

Then, I will hang out for hours in the same booth with my friends and our rotating cast of significant others (or did I just get that from “How I Met Your Mother?”). At some point, there will be a bar fight. Guaranteed. It will also possibly be over me, but that isn’t guaranteed. It might just be over misplaced testosterone.

I realize that some bars are different, so some elements of any of these possibilities are circumstantial. For instance, I’m aware that it’s only in particular lounge-like bars that I will need to drape myself over a piano and sing seductively. Other venues might require some seductive dancing instead. The bottom line is that I will at least be seducing someone (some people?) somehow.

Later in the night, I will find myself sitting across the bar from a worldly and wise bartender who will listen to my stories and give me sage advice like “That’s rough, buddy” and “Please stop opening those sugar packets and dumping them on the counter. Where did you even find those?” Before the night is over, we will partake in a piece of classic banter: They try to cut me off and I claim that I know when I’ve had enough. They will then nod with approval and I will know that I have finished the last stage of initiation into bar life. I’ve made it.

Basically, what I’m getting out of this exercise is that, even without the “Curse of Knowledge,” I have no idea what I’m doing, and I’m glad I have some older friends to take care of me.

So, there’s my baseline of my 20-year-old thinking concerning my bar expectations: ignorant but probably not too far off. I plan to use this article in the future as a resource to support a larger argument about how stupid past me was — something that far-distant-future me is probably also thinking about not-so-far-distant me as well. This is the beauty and the progression of the “Curse of Knowledge,” to always look back on your past self and cringe. Nature is amazing.

Sarah Leeson can be reached at sleeson@umich.edu.

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