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Finding facts then and now

August 16, 2011
By JOYCE SCHENK, COLUMNIST
My favorite high school subject was current events. At the time, it was considered a cutting-edge course, centered on what was happening in the world of the day.

The class was taught by Miss Garret, a no-nonsense educator dedicated to showing her students how to think independently. That approach made for a challenging semester that tested the motivation and innovation of each member of this small, advanced class.

In lieu of a course text book, each of us subscribed to the leading news magazine of the time, US News and World Report.

Miss Garret was a stickler for research. She continually reminded us, “Instead of trying to memorize facts, learn where to find the information you need. Honing your talents for research will help you in any field you decide to enter.”

Each month, Miss Garret assigned her students to choose a research venture which would rely on in-depth library work as well as drawing from current reports on television and in printed media.

For one ambitious project, I zeroed in on the importance of the Nile River to the history and development of Egypt. For days, I haunted the library, spreading books across the table and jotting page after page of notes to give my essay a strong factual basis.

It’s been more than half a century since I sat in Miss Garret’s class. And through all these years, the research tools she taught have proved invaluable.

Fortunately, these days when I’m looking for information on anything from stem cell research to the location of the nearest acupuncturist, I only need to go online and search on that never-fail resource, Google.

With our growing reliance on search engines, it’s hard to believe that these magic tools only entered our lives in the late 1990s. But today’s Google offers a priceless asset in our search for information.

However, some see the down side of this approach. In a recent report published in newspapers across the country, the scientific community bemoaned the fact that Google has affected our brains by making it unnecessary for us to rely on our memory.

“Nowadays,” the report said, “it’s a whole lot easier to store all that cumbersome data offsite.” In other words, we let Google supply the answers we need, rather than trying to store information in our memories.

But I don’t feel I’ve abdicated any of my brain power to modern technology. Instead, I’m convinced searching the internet is just what Miss Garret meant when she said, “Learn where to find the information you need.”

With Google at my fingertips, the sum of mankind’s knowledge is available to me in a nanosecond.

However, it’s also important to remember not everything on the “net” is valid. It’s vital that we sift through the information we gather for the bogus “factoids” that often slip into the mix of Google responses. Some web sites are obviously filled with baseless material. But, by relying on Google’s myriad of good, solid website suggestions, I can retrieve what I need in a fraction of the time it used to take me to go through stacks of books in the library. Without giving up any of my brain’s reasoning and evaluation capabilities, I can inform myself on any subject with a much broader array of facts than my limited personal research — or on-board memory — could produce.

If only Miss Garret could see me now.
 
 

 

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