Imagining the Internet

My first thought in beginning this post is that, although this is not the explicit intention of the assignment, being asked to respond to a reading on a blog is a healthy instance of turnabout.  I ask all of my upper level students to post reading responses, so it’s both fair and instructive that I should do so as well!

Reading the piece by Bush took me back to the card catalog and indexes that were still in place when I started graduate school in 1992 — although I also recall spending time there and at other libraries locating interesting sources simply by browsing a section of the stacks.  I suppose there can be some serendipity or chance in internet searches as well, although I wonder sometimes whether students expect too much of search engines — or are not fully aware of their limitations.

That said, imagining Bush’s prescient imagining of these possibilities (now realities) for sharing scholarly work and information easily and quickly underscores how much of a difference the internet makes — something I’ve come to take for granted but upon reflection benefit from a great deal.

Although the problems are not new, reflecting on these benefits immediately brings me back to some of the downsides that one might see embodied in pay-to-publish online journals and the proliferation of sites offering “information.”  I just recently discussed with students in one of my classes an instance in which a history textbook adopted in VA was recalled after someone called attention to a line in it claiming that thousands of African-Ameicans fought for the Confederacy.  The author defended the statement as something she found on the internet — more precisely, the web site of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.  I suppose this is leading back to the somewhat obvious but in my view crucial point that critical thinking and research skills are even more important in an age in which information is so readily available — and publishable.

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