The Internet has made it easy to get information. I was using Google, the main search engine, on many computers, long before it became a verb in its own right, as in “I’ll Google that information.”
A man who influenced me during my many years on the Highlands University faculty was also my major professor as an undergraduate, John Adams, who I wish I could have influenced as much as he did me.
Let me explain:
The late English professor simply eschewed modern technology, which he called gimmicks. If, in a fit of nostalgia or trivia, or simply chewing or shooting the fat or the bull (he would have said “masticating the bovine”), I happened to ask him, for example, to cite a passage from John Dryden, I believe he’d have taken the trek to Donnelly Library to find out.
By necessity, he’d probably properly check out the correct volume on the 17th century English poet and return with the answer. Obtaining that information any other way would have been “spurious.”
But nowadays? Well, I just Googled the writer’s name and got my answer. Saved a trip to the library.
Now I write all this with great respect for the scholar who learned the hard way. The only time I remember raising my voice (and Adams did the same) was when I felt my life was complete when my department received its first computer, a behemoth, sans hard drive, sans color capability, sans WIZZYWIG. I wanted to show off my new toy to Adams.
I believe his notion of a computer was simply a device onto which you press a few keys, and — change-oh, presto — you have a completed and fully edited master’s thesis. At the time, the late ‘80s, I really never wondered what the future would be like and how that bulky computer would be replaced by things like iPads, which store many more times bits of information than their much earlier ancestors.
But does what Adams called spurious cheapen the research results, not to mention making the search much easier? Some people believe the quest isn’t worthwhile unless someone needed to visit the subterranean catacombs of Donnelly to get the information.
Does the ease of the quest cheapen the product?
In graduate school, one of my professors presented three strikingly similar concepts taken from three different sources: a biography by Henry Adams, a treatise by James Baldwin and a novel by William Faulkner. Now tell me how in Charlottesville, Va., in 1971, we’re going to find those passages.
The quest took weeks; some of us students never found the passages, or else we consumed so much time searching for them that we forgot to read the literary works, almost as if we were scanning a phone book.
Today, even junior high kids could locate all the passages in minutes. Does the research count as much when instead of saying, “I found it!” we say Google helped?
We can argue on both sides of the maxim “The end justifies the means?” We can claim it doesn’t matter how we get the information, as long as it’s correct. But then again, does that minimize our ability to do real research, to ferret out the relevant data on our own?
I’ve posed a question about which I’d welcome feedback. And just as some people assert that the hand-held calculator has taken away people’s simple math skills, others will revel at what a wonderful tool it is.
I plan to cover this topic in more depth in a future column. Soon.
Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.