Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Journey Isn't Half The Fun Anymore

Admittedly, the Internet is massive and wonderful, a constant stream of new information that provides an unforeseen opportunity to access and search through a mind-boggling assortment of documents. However, I wonder if the advent of key word searches and engines that bring exactly what the computer presumes we need to our fingertips is somehow an unfortunate development.

One of the most important skills in research is the ability to sift out important information from useless dribble. If everything we presume we need to know is sent directly to our computer screen, one of our major ability as researchers is no longer important.

More importantly, what is going to happen to the old adage that the journey is half the fun? I am fairly certain that everyone who has ever done major research of any kind can attest to the fact that they have stumbled across a wonderful nugget of information in a book or document they never would have expected to find useful. Does this Internet juggernaut pound researchers with so much narrowly defined information that the jewels hidden in unrelated documents fall by the wayside?

I think it would be interesting to compare two papers written on the same topic, one relying only on archives and the other only on documents accessed online. I wonder what the authors or those two documents would say about what they learned through their research project, and how the two pieces would differ.

I'm probably being too harsh, and need to acknowledge that research on the Internet teaches us an entirely new set of skills that are neither better nor worse than our old research skills.


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  2. I've never thought of the 'infinite archive' as a possible hindrance before, but you make a very good point. The idea that narrowly defined search outcomes could actually hurt us as historians seems like something that we'll be battling our entire careers. I'm just going to continue to cross my fingers for robot butlers that will be able to do research for us, but I suppose then the problem will just be exacerbated.