Researching: Past versus Present
“The advantages are incredible. You literally have the world wide web of knowledge as opposed to our knowledge which consisted of books in a library.” This was said by James Biever, a retired State Policeman, owner of JB Truth Consultants (a polygraph firm) and my father. James has been out of high school and college for a good 25 years. It is safe to say that things have most definitely changed since the last time he had to write a research paper. The researching stage, gathering the information and then writing the paper was very time consuming, whereas today it is a synch. We have it easy.
When students today are told to write a research paper, the first thing they do is jump onto Google and put there topic in the search engine. Pages and pages appear and the material is endless. This makes it easy for all those procrastinators in the world. Back then, procrastination would have been a horribly bad idea. “For me it (researching) was a lot more difficult and we didn’t have nearly enough information. Right now you could type in a subject and get 50 million hits.” When James used to be in school, the researching period, was much more tedious. “We used a lot of encyclopedias. There was naturally no Internet so everything you would use would be from the library. And that was it. You would go to the library and primarily, if you had the topic of, say the American Revolution, you would go and just look up books. You could look up magazines ever now and then.” He explained in more detail the process of looking up information in a book, saying, “What you would have to do is go in the book, go in the back to the index, look for the topic, go to that page and read. So the research back then was more time consuming.”
Researching papers was at times overwhelming, but typing a paper was also hard work. “The ease of typing papers is incredible. I used to have to type my papers with a typewriter or handwrite them. Now you have a computer, spell check, this and that. I mean there is no comparison between now and then.”
Sites on the Internet aren’t always reliable sources, such as Wikipedia. Ways to look up valid sites have been created. If someone sees the endings of a URL that say “.edu,” or “.gov” that is a pretty big hint that that is a usable resource. How did a researcher know what was and wasn’t valid back then? James said, “If you got material from MAD Magazine or US News and World Report, you ranked the material based on the credibility of the source, the author, or the year it was written.”
Though James said the Internet is something he wished he had when he was a young schoolboy, he also saw the value in reading a book. “When you were researching before you had to read the whole article and you would come across other information that you did not know. That kinda expanded your knowledge a little bit.” This statement is very true when comparing it to most of today’s generation. Take, for instance, an assignment to write a book report. Some kids will actually read the book, while others will go on Sparknotes.com and just read the summaries of the chapters. As another example, you are assigned a research paper on the Great Depression. Many will look up information in books and on the internet. They will read and understand the information and actually learn something. Then there are the select few who will copy and paste sentences from documents to Word and hope that the professor does not suspect any plagiarism. The Internet is a wonderful invention but can be abused quite easily, which is most definitely a disadvantage.
All in all, James appreciates the new technology we have today, and uses it quite frequently, as do many others from his generation. His sister, Diane Biever, shared her thoughts on technology. “First, everything was paper. 25 years later and there is less and less paper and not a lot of human error like there used to be. That’s why I love technology, so many built in safety features, and you don’t have to worry about handwriting.”
The consensus between both persons is that there is an ease about looking things up on the Internet. “The other day I was trying to take off wall paper and I just took out my computer and looked it up.” Of course there are issues, like reliability and safety. Social networking causes some distractions, especially when a teenage has to choose between Instagram and writing about a war that happened hundreds of years ago. Overall, researching, gathering information and typing it is not as burdensome as it was for James, Diane or anyone else from that time period. “I think overall though that there is no question that it’s a positive thing.” We most definitely have it easy.