Doing some research on Duckweed today; helping out with a science fair project. Stopped in my tracks in amazement and marvel at human progress. Duckweed typed on a keyboard, information streamed almost instantaneously to the dusty barn closet that is doubling as an office these days. Wow! Now that is progress!
There was a time of 4-hour drives to the stacks of a library. A small cozy library at the marine lab, but all the good journals lived at the main campus in Chapel Hill. If there wasn’t a hurry an interlibrary loan could be processed in about 3 weeks. That felt like Christmas! Now its all at the finger tips, everything a guy could ever want to know about Duckweed on a machine in a dusty office. Amazing!
Amazing yes, but have we lost something in exchange?
Voyages to the library were made in an early 80s Dodge truck. The marine lab had a small fleet of trucks, including a few brand new 1992 F-150s. There was heavy competition for these beauties by the aggressive-go-getters. Not fitting any part of that description (some would say that’s why I haven’t made it very “far”) I always opted for the old Dodge, State of North Carolina truck #410. A manual transmission and a nasty habit of stalling on railroad tracks ensured it was always available, no reservations required.
These expeditions into the sea of literature required significant preparation. Reading, reading, reading and then a curiosity about references, “Oh this looks like a good one!” Lists constructed on yellow legal pads from the lab’s office supply closet served as maps. The journey to the fishing ground was long and time in the stacks was limited. Would it be a one-day effort? or would there be sleeping on a musty couch in a Venable Hall stairwell near a steam radiator?
Sometimes it was a solo venture, just a single soul aboard 410. Quiet thinking. Other times with a friend and mentor, a brilliant man who wielded the red pen like a sword. The world streamed by like a movie: New Bern, Kinston, Goldsboro, Smithfield. A word here, a word there, science, philosophy, spear fishing. The words were few, the gaps of emptiness between them enormous, just two humans staring out the window at NC Highway 70. So much can be learned with so few words.
Disappearing into the sea of information clutching a yellow legal pad. The exhilaration of finding the paper! But wait! Read it first! Abstract, figures, skim the discussion. Ownership comes at a cost (7 cents/page, 5 cents with a frequent-copier-card), is it worth it? Sometimes the title is the best part and that’s already on the yellow legal pad. The decision to photocopy, a line at the machine, ideas churning, self-assembly of a dissertation in a copier line. Time well spent.
Access to information is good. But delayed gratification is also good.
And in the delay is time to think. Thats what we’ve lost.
Thankful for my time in 410.