One of the casualties of today’s search engine based technology is research. Writers think that if they plug a few keywords into Google and press enter, then voila! They have all the research they need, without having to leave the comfort of one’s home office/Barca-lounger/bed.
They couldn’t be more wrong.
A few months ago, I stumbled across a TED Talk on search engine filtering. Apparently engines such as Google and Yahoo store data culled from your browsing habits, and begin to sort and select information based on your location, your visited sites, and anything else they feel might more target you demographically.
What this means is that you are not being provided with an open array of information and material; instead, material is edited according to your location, gender and age.
Let’s not even talk about how Wiki data can be altered by anyone with the urge – or the agenda – to do so.
When I was little, dinosaurs ruled the earth, and the web was nothing more than something that shot out of Spidey’s fingers. We had this fascinating method of obtaining information for our fourth grade papers on evolution. We went to the library.
“What’s a library?” you ask. Oh, my darlings. You are so precious.
A library is a building, a public institution, that is filled with books. Books are these objects that do not select information based upon your demographic. They are there, filled with stories, with articles, with words, available to anyone capable enough to pick them up and turn the pages.
Instead of search engines, libraries have this thing called a periodical index, where you search through the index, in alphabetical order, for your keyword, then lo! and behold, before you is every single item published within that year about your subject. You make your list, and scamper merrily over and immerse yourself in the world of microfiche, spending the rest of the day in front of antiquated, croaking machinery, scrolling through rolls and rolls of film, getting your inner geek on.
The beauty of this method of research is that you are truly doing focused research, zeroing in on your target, without the distractions of email, Skype, IM, Facebook, Tweetdeck feeds and internet porn.
It’s also engaging. It’s one thing to stare at a computer screen for hours on end; it’s quite another to physically labor for your fruits, to search for your materials, to select your books, to hold old newspapers, to scroll through centuries of research, articles and musings of others. It’s tactile. The smell of the books. The hush of the library. The synapses fire on overtime; hours later, you emerge exhausted – and exhilarated.
I love libraries. The Downtown Central library here in Los Angeles is a favorite haunt of mine. It’s a short ride on the subway to Pershing Square, then a few blocks walk up Hill Street. For those of you who still cannot grasp the concept of a what a library is, it’s that building where Nic Cage hung out in City of Angels. No, not the hospital. The other one.
I don’t understand the overall attitude people have towards downtown L.A. It’s beautiful. Stunning architecture, towering buildings, incredible eateries, busy people milling by. It’s richly populated, culturally diverse. It’s smart. It’s a city. There are days when I venture down there just to walk the streets and take in the sites. Downtown L.A. is alive.
So, the next time you need to tackle a subject, do yourself – and your story – a favor. Get off your rear and haul yourself to your local public library. I can assure you that your research will be more accurate and more rich than from anything sourced on the net. And, you might just learn something.
Next entry, the other old-fashioned way of doing things – In the Flesh.
Now, go write.
HRH, Princess Scribe