The Internet is amazing. It is an epistemophile's dream.
I'm not sure if epistemophile is a real word, but I'm using it to mean someone who loves knowledge.
Ironically, I settled on this word with the help of the Internet: I found an online Greek lexicon and looked up the word for "knowledge" n "episteme," then added the "phile" that I already know means "lover."
Anyone who read my column last week and for some unaccountable reason remembers it knows that it was heavily based on Internet research. The 'Net is a vast virtual library, available to those who can access it with just a few keystrokes.
To give an idea of just how much knowledge is available online, one may note that the popular search engine "Google" currently scans almost 4.3 billion "pages." By contrast, the Library of Congress, the largest library in the world, has (according to n what else? n its Internet site) about 89 million books, recordings and documents.
Of course, 4.3 billion Web pages is still more than two billion short of the number of people in the world; so it's still just a small fraction of the knowledge that's floating around out there. Nevertheless, that's a lot of information literally at one's fingertips.
To give an example, last week my editor said that her mother used to refer to a messy room as "The Wreck of the Hesperus." She said she never understood that reference.
I was able to tell her that "The Wreck of the Hesperus" was a poem about a shipwreck. I thought Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote it, but I wasn't sure.
So I visited one of my favorite Internet sites, Bartleby.com, and in less than 10 seconds I was not only able to tell April that William Wadsworth Longfellow wrote "The Wreck of the Hesperus," but also to send her the text of the poem via e-mail.
We're talking near-Star Trek stuff here.
While I'm obviously enthralled with the Internet, lately I've developed a couple of concerns about it. Namely, as we grow more and more 'Net-dependent, will we lose our old-fashioned research skills?
I still know how to go to a real library and look something up. But what about today's schoolkids? I assume they're still taught regular library skills, but I also know they get a healthy dose of computer and Internet training.
And when I was a kid, if I'd had a choice between tapping a few keys for information for a research paper or spending an hour in the library taking notes, I'd have chosen the first in a heartbeat.
Heck, I would choose that now.
So what will happen if, Heaven forbid, something happens to the Internet? What if terrorists somehow succeed in taking it down for a while? What if an earthquake knocks out some of the vital infrastructure that keeps it running?
What will kids who need information for research papers do then? Will they still have the skills to find what they need in books?
That's not to mention the patience factor. I already find myself getting antsy if the computer runs a little slower than I think it should.
"Thirty seconds? It took 30 seconds to pull up that information? I don't have that kind of time!"
Despite these musings, I'm sure that as long as I have access to the 'Net, I'll continue to use it for most of my information needs. As society becomes more and more wired, I'm afraid the old 30-volume encyclopedia set is going to become more and more obsolete.
But it wouldn't hurt for someone to have a set on some dusty old shelf n just in case.
Clay Wilson is the education reporter for the Daily Herald. His column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.