What did we do before Google?

I’m working through my footnotes for my Phd at the moment, and I’ve suddenly discovered that I have references to a work by Edmund Burke from the wrong edition: my footnotes refer to the 1967 print, but by bibliography lists the 1889 edition that I’ve got sitting on my shelf (it’s great what you can find in Oxfam bookshops).

So there we have a problem: I’ve got a few page references from one edition but no idea where they appear in the edition that I have in my bibliography. The solution? Google, of course.

So, I wanted to find a couple of quotes:

I am satisfied the ideas of pain are much more powerful than those which enter on the part of pleasure.

When danger or pain press too nearly, they are incapable of giving any delight, and are simply terrible; but at certain distances, and with certain modifications, they may be, and they are, delightful, as we every day experience.

Copy and paste part of the phrase into Google, then use the ‘cached’ link to highlight where the phase appears on the page, like this, and there’s my answer: the phrase appears in section VII, so I just need to find that in my bibliographic copy of the book and I’ve got my new page number.

This still leaves the question ‘What did we do before Google?’. Today, ladies and gentlemen, I present the answer: we worked a lot harder for the same or less results.

The next question would have to be whether we’re now capable of creating better ideas and writing in more knowledgable ways because of Google, and that one is far harder to answer. I suspect the answer might be they we are not; there is only so much knowledge that we can convey and appreciate, and the ‘soundbite’ culture of academia, once an indicator of broad reading, is too easily entered into now without proper understanding of subjects. Google is the cure and the curse for academics, but at times like today I can’t help but marvel at how useful it is.

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