The Evolution Of Doing Research

I knew the quote quite well; I just could not remember the exact words. It was a quote by Socrates whom I had studied in a philosophy class last semester and whom I really admired. It was something about “death” and “wickedness” but I could not catch the long lost words in my sea of memories. No problem, I thought to myself smiling, thankful for the gift of the web. I typed in the words “Socrates quotes” and instantly, I received dozens of websites displaying Socrates’ famous quotes. In less than three minutes of skimming, I was able to locate the quote:

"It is not difficult to avoid death, gentlemen; it is much more difficult to avoid wickedness, for it runs faster than death"


Imagine how the situation would have played out without the web; I would have had to pay a visit to the library, start remembering in which book I had read the quote, in which chapter and which paragraph and if I don’t remember which book it was to begin with, I would have had to dig in several books for that one single sentence. I would be looking for a tiny pin hiding in a stack of hay. Unimaginable, isn’t it? Well, I believe it’s only unimaginable to us now that we have got the gift of the web, it’s even more unimaginable to the online generation – myself included – that grew up in the digital age without having to deal with the worries of the pre-digital era. The web – as shown in the above example – responded to my exigency for the right information in a minimum amount of time, an exigency that wasn’t existent with that intensity before the invention of the web. Prior to the invention of the web, going through the hassle of doing it manually was the most efficient way of researching, well, it was the only way. Ever since I joined the university, the only time I had to visit the library and borrow a hard copy book, read it and use it in an essay was for my research writing class. I remember feeling so proud; studying an old history book about a Japanese cult like real scholars. It was so unusual for me and that’s why I remember it so clearly and so distinctly. I was always used to typing a single keyword and that Google would do the rest. But that time, I did more and Google did less and I loved it. But was I able to keep on doing research the old way? Of course I wasn’t, it was nice to try it once, maybe I will do it again a few times but it can never be the norm.


Not surprisingly, I am not the only one who finds the web a Godsend invention.

“When I worked as a magazine reporter in New York in the early 1980s, we would request background help from the research department, and a crabby person pushing a cart would show up a day or two later and hand us an overstuffed file folder full of yellowed newspaper clippings, scribbles on napkins, phone numbers with no names attached, and other random bits of information”[2]

said Joan Hamilton a Business Week journalist while describing her pre-web research process. Of course, the web has made the lives of journalists like Joan – whose jobs are all about gathering the right information – much easier and a search that used to take 10 days would now take a few clicks on a mouse pad. We live in a fast paced world and we have a constant exigency to keep up with the overwhelming changes. Google, Yahoo, other search engines, Databases, Youtube, Facebook and recently Wikileaks to name a few have given us the agency to try and move ahead.

“Research that once required days in the stacks or periodical rooms of libraries can now be done in minutes. A few Google searches, some quick clicks on hyperlinks, and I’ve got the telltale fact or pithy quote I was after”[1]

adds Nicholas Carr, a journalist and the writer of The Big Switch and The Shallows.


Obviously, in terms of doing research, the web seems to be the star of the show. And in a way, it really is. It stores huge amounts of information waiting to be unleashed by one simple click including journals, discussion groups, newspaper archives, blogs, governmental websites…

“When we Google a keyword, we receive in the blink of an eye, a list of interesting information to appraise. When we send a text or an instant message or an email, we often get a reply in a matter of seconds or minutes”[1]

says Nicolas Carr in his book the Shallows while describing how the fire-speed of the internet. Efficiency reaches its peak with an ever increasing speed, time and space boundaries vanish now that a fresh written article is spread in a less than a minute across the globe, multimedia sources are easily acquired and not only text. With Facebook, we form new friendships that were otherwise impossible, and we keep old ones alive. With Twitter, we’re able to follow the opinions of and be followed by millions of people. Clearly, the web tends to make everything faster, easier and more efficient. All of those benefits are good for us, aren’t they? Everything is only a click away; that has got to be good. Sadly, the answer is, not necessarily.


''The Web has a driven feel to it because your hand is on the mouse. You never take it off,'' explains Jakob Nielsen, one of the Web's most seasoned designers and head of Silicon Valley's Nielsen Norman Group. He says the level of engagement during a Web surfer's information foraging is so intense, it also ''drives impatience back into the real world” (Hamilton[2]). In other words, since we’re used to having everything one click away online, we’re expecting the same speed offline as well. And as faster technologies rise, we grow more impatient. Going back to the example of finding Socrates’ quote in 2 minutes using the web, I keep asking myself, would my exigency for speed have conquered my need for the information? Would I have been willing to exert more effort had I needed that quote urgently without having internet access? Honestly, I don’t think I would have and even if I had been willing to do it the manual way, I don’t think it would have been the most enjoyable experience and I would definitely not be willing to repeat it.

“I feel as if the Web has trained me to expect ever-escalatingand frankly irrationallevels of responsiveness from all kinds of interactions both on- and offline”[2]

adds Joan. I confess that I belong to an impatient generation which helps me most of the time but it also makes a one hour trip to the university irritating, driving in Cairo’s traffic jams unbearable, standing in line for 15 minutes frustrating and recently, waiting for a page to load for more than 45 seconds such a waste of time.


Impatience isn’t the only disorder which we developed by using the internet. Having to deal with the huge amounts of information which Google keeps bombarding us with leads us to the issue of information overload, how it affects us and the ways we try to handle it.

1. Carr, Nicholas. "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" The Atlantic — News and Analysis on Politics, Business, Culture, Technology, National, International, and Life – Web. 10 May 2011. <>.
2. Hamilton, Joan. "A Case of Internet Itch." Bloomberg-Business Week. Web. 10 May 2011. <>.