Preliminary Investigation: The Internet

It is a thorny undertaking–more than it looks–to follow so roaming a course as that of [the Internet’s], to penetrate its dark depths and its inner recesses, to pick out and pin down the innumerable characteristics of its motions. – Montaigne, On practice

Ah, the Internet. I am not a great fan of using it for research. It’s haphazard and time-consuming; you may wind up with what you’re looking for, you may not, you may skid off on a tangent and forget your task. (Ah-ha! I got you there, didn’t I? How did I get so smart about human behavior? By behaving humanly myself.)

As a research tool, the Internet is essentially the Mother of All MOPS (you remember: MOP = mess of papers). When you search the Internet you’ve wandered into a gargantuan room in which MOPS are piled everywhere, reaching to the ceiling, spilling over onto the floor. Yes, some of the MOPS have hand-written signs describing what’s in that MOP – if you can find and read the sign (it may have fallen off the pile) – but there is no map to the room and no system of exploration. No human being, a/k/a librarian, to give you direction.

And when you do find what seems like a useful MOP, you won’t know whether it’s authoritative, a lawyer’s disguised advertisement or just some semi-psychotic jerk’s rant.

Sitting at a computer is not good physical exercise, either. But if you must surf the web, you must. Do situps in between waves, or something. I’m worried Sidebar could cause your limbs to wither away. I’ll be sitting here imagining you all getting weaker and weaker …

So I’ve done some thinking and digging around. Coming up: what I suggest on incorporating the web into your research.

P.S. Montaigne didn’t actually mention the Internet. He was referring to the human mind.

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