29 February 2008

the google dance

I'm happy to report that it is 29 Feb and I have finished two (unbelievably rough) chapters! huzzah. Now to the real work: rewriting.

I have discovered in my process this month a new way of googling (which is I'm sure old news to many of my 4 readers) in which you can limit your search to a particular 'site' using this difficult-to-remember command: 'site:' This came in handy when I was trying to find the records for certain archives on the Cambridge Centre of South Asia webpages. They don't have a universal search feature, and the navigation is a bit haphazard, so it's unclear from the surface of the site exactly how much info is on there. Putting my search term next to the 'site:[URL]' was genius at finding either what I needed or that it wasn't on the site.

Google has been (for a while) a very powerful search tool. With the expansion of Google scholar beyond its initial science-focused framework and with Google Books, it's almost like cheating. No more struggling through notes to try to find that full reference. No more running back to the bookshelf or library to check the exact quote. No more guessing by title and subject heading whether that book is really the one you want to buy or check out of the library or ILL. I find it to be a huge help, and a lot of fun, for I am a complete geek.

But like all tools it is on some level just a very good tool. My students can't seem to use it to find anything beyond wikipedia. Not because they don't use the interwebs, but because they don't have any idea that 'research' is not a treasure hunt in which one has clues and there will always be a treasure at the end, but instead an on-going, never-ending, semi-choreographed dance. While they follow the dance steps chalked out on the floor and thereby think they are actually doing the rhumba, the rest of us are, at the risk of overestimating my talents--and certainly at the risk of overextending the analogy--performing convincing interpretive modern dance with some of the best companies in the world. I'm not saying I'm the principle in the company. Far from it. I'm just saying that it's an art. And it's one that must be practised and performed regularly. And one that is helped by better lighting, a lovely theatre, advances in synthetic fabrics, and sometimes even props. But those props and lycra ain't doin' nothin' for my students. Except giving them two left feet.

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