The Web Effect

The internet has been around since I started researching. Since we are in a transitional period, still transferring from analog to digital, I have had to use both internet and non-internet resources. I have often wondered, “how would I do this if it weren’t for the internet?” or while reading a book published in the 60s, 70s, or 80s, “how did they do this without the internet?” The internet has made our jobs as researchers immediately more doable. There is now no need to travel to remote locations, spend years combing through irrelevant information, or even learn new languages. This new world that we have created seems utopic, but are we loosing something?

Last semester, I had to use an analog source, the newspaper that I was researching was not yet imported into the digital landscape. I first only noticed the disadvantages of sitting with the material on the microfilm readers, but after a while I saw that there were many interesting advantages to the hard copy sources. Most important to me was being able to put the articles I read in context, see what other articles people were reading, and infer the angle of the newspaper. I was able to see where the article was situated on the page and encounter the information in much the same way as I would have if I were reading the paper on my front porch in 1963. I slowly began to stop lamenting the lack of searchability and began enjoying the time it took me to comb through the hard copy.

While the internet has made information more accessible for researchers who are looking for specific documents, it has taken away the browse factor. To open a box in a database and find the document you’re looking for is rewarding, but what is more so is seeing what is next to it in the box. To browse and come across something that the researcher was not expecting is an important research skill. Only finding what you are looking for could lead to blindspots in the research.

The internet has made much of the world incredibly searchable and this has helped researchers immensely, but if researchers only rely on information that pops up during searches then we will have an incomplete view of the available sources. We cannot let algorithms dictate our sources.

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