Recently I was chatting with a few friends, and the topic of finding information came up; I was surprised that it hadn’t even occurred to them that they could find such information online. Time and again, I meet such people. It is a modern phenomenon that we have the world’s knowledge at our fingertips; Google has become so ubiquitous with searches that it’s made it into dictionaries as a verb, and yet it seems that some people have still not realised its potential.
Granted, there is a lot of static out there: Misinformation (whether intentional or unintentional), nonsense, and useless clutter (someone’s grandkid’s cousin’s uncle’s birthday party, or videos that need massive editing before they’re much use but they’re online nonetheless). But if you know how to search, there’s a world of information out there to be had; you need to use discernment, and – especially if using the information as a basis for an article, or in writing a novel – you need to get cross-references and confirmation. But I’ve found that the people I’ve talked to on this topic can’t seem to get past the static and therefore seem to have difficulty in viewing cyberspace as a serious information source.
The downside of so much ready knowledge with easy access is that people no longer need to memorise or learn information themselves – they can just grab their phone and look it up. The upside of it is that, if people make proper use of it, they can learn so much more than previous generations ever even had access to. The photo below, gone viral, is of a school class sitting in front of Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch”; while it appears that they are bored and inattentive to what is around them, they’re actually using the museum’s app to learn more about the photo and the painter as part of a school assignment. Notice that they’re interacting with each other, and even helping each other. Hopefully part of the assignment was also to study the painting with their eyes.
I do a LOT of research online; for some of my books, I’ve done odd searches which I’m certain mess with the algorithms of Google & co. I’ve searched for the average size of a human corpse and the distinctions between a coffin, casket and cist (I started getting ads for funeral services after that); how to throw a kris dagger vs. a regular dagger; tide tables; sunrises, sunsets and moon phases in the 9th, 18th and 21st centuries; native flowers to Britain in the Georgian period; medicine at sea; the effects of various soil compositions on a corpse and artefacts, postmortem forensics, and dozens of other bizarre topics. In my free time, I do a wide variety of crafts and cooking, and so my Pinterest pins multiply like rabbits in the dark! Just click on my gravatar link to have a peek through my cupboards there.
If you put your mind to learning how to do anything, you can find instructions for it somewhere online. A few weeks ago, I wanted to reupholster our office chairs (they are the kind that has a hard plastic frame at the back and underside of the seat). I found a Youtube video that showed how to take them apart, and within an hour I had the first chair dismantled, reupholstered and reconstructed. As Amelia Earhart said, “The most difficult thing is the decision to act; the rest is mere tenacity.” I find that, in talking with friends, they often don’t know how to begin searching, and I think that’s the key: They don’t try because they don’t know how to start, and so they can’t learn how to do it – learning by trial and error. Failure is merely success in progress, but the point is that progress requires action… movement.
For writers, cyberspace is worth its weight in gold; no library could hold the amount of information available to us at our fingertips; no university could teach the wide range of topics available online; no video library could contain the staggering amount of documentaries, DIY instruction videos, and step-by-step how-tos.
What was the most recent thing you searched for online? Was your search successful? How much time did it take you to find what you were looking for? Please describe it briefly in a comment below!