A guided tour of the internet

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Macy Halford from the Book Bench found a book--a real, dead-tree book--to use as a guide for online research. The History Highway 2000 is a bibliography of every history-related website as of the year 2000. Her intention was to use it to make a list of sites, visit them for her reasearch, and be done with it. Sounds efficient, until the internet got in the way:

It occurred to me during this adventure that one of the main reasons I miss book-based research is that it is conducive to forming ideas. It is repetitive, like the click, click of Internet research, but it is slow and silent: in between reading, taking notes, looking up call numbers in a catalogue, and walking to retrieve books, facts connect into thoughts and thoughts into ideas. I recall doing most of the mental "writing" of papers during this period of research. Nowadays, I end my bouts of info-surfing in a state of confusion and exhaustion. I require a twenty-four-hour detox period before the factoids begin to rearrange themselves into a somewhat logical formation.

Even an unabashed internet evangelist like myself has to admit this is true. I remember days where I didn't have a lot to do at work and spent most of it goofing around online, and at the end of it my brain felt wrung out like a flimsy sponge (and my workplace blocks most of the sources for truly inane content: YouTube, Facebook, etc). While I still call bullshit on Nicholas Carr's idea that the internet forces its distractions on us, like Halford, I miss the way searching books only gives us a chance to breathe and think.