The problem with not knowing everything, of course, is that you don’t know everything, and this puts you in a position of suffering the occasional bout of l’esprit de l’escalier: the perfect reply comes to you, yes, but not in a timely manner.
I’m pretty good at picking up on cultural references, perhaps a bit less adept at coming up with the best possible response. This often causes frustration, and not just for me:
I would like to believe that I’m one of the ones trying to carry forward that kind of knowledge, caring about that kind of stuff, and keep it alive, but honestly, I don’t really have anyone I’m passing it on to all that much. Often the allusions to historical things I make in class seem largely to be lost (do people, I mean people who aren’t history buffs, know much about the family of the last tsar and about familial transmission of hemophilia?) and I know from one of my classes last spring, I don’t DARE be too idiosyncratic because then people just giggle and pass notes.
There was a time, I believe, when having something zoom over your head at high speed would have been a catastrophic blow to your sense of self. [Facepalm, followed by “I knew that.”] As culture itself becomes fragmented, even atomized, it’s easier to excuse yourself with “I am not expected to know this,” which is the philosophical equivalent of “I was told there would be no math.” By the same token, actually catching something I am not expected to know carries a couple of nonrefundable, nondisposable egoboo points, perhaps enough to carry me through the next facepalm, and there’s always a next facepalm.
To a certain extent, we adjust ourselves to the audience we have; my own particular workplace is, well, not especially cerebral, and I have learned to confine my more challenging outbursts to these pages, or to Twitter. I do the spur-of-the-moment 140-character thing reasonably well, I think, though there are plenty of folks, many of whom I eagerly follow, who can type rings around me. But most of the time, the immediacy one might like is lacking, simply because none of the exchange is face-to-face; for all they know, I could be halfway down the stairs, or halfway across the county, already. Then again, if I’m slow coming up with a response, it’s probably just as well that I’m not there to be glared at.