From time to time, I write here about the wonders of Google and Wikipedia, which put at my fingertips in an instant a vast array of information. The young among you may perhaps never have paused to wonder how folks survived before the Internet. Herewith a glimpse into that past.
Sitting on my desk is a little oblong cardboard bookmark, one of the things I kept when I sorted out the family house after my father passed away in 1981. He obtained it from the Vleigh Branch Library of the Queens Borough Public Library, a little local library that was then [and indeed still is] only a few blocks from the house in which I lived until I went off to college in 1950. On the front of the bookmark is printed the schedule of library hours: Monday one to nine, Tuesday and Wednesday ten to nine, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday ten to five-thirty. On the back is the following message. I quote it in full:
"GET THE FACTS BY PHONE ...... RE 9 - 1900
Next time you need information fast, just telephone the Queens Central Library. Professional librarians, using a collection of 500 reference books of the handbook of statistical information type, will quickly supply the answer you need.... whether it be on business statistics, spelling, politics or sports, or as technical as "How do you convert temperature from Fahrenheit to centigrade?"
This is just one more way the Queens Public Library puts its extensive reference facilities within easy reach of the entire borough of Queens. Make a note of the number RE 9-1900."
My immediate association is to a wonderful old 1957 Katherine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy movie, Desk Set. Hepburn runs the reference department of a large corporation, presiding over a team of whizzes who can locate any desired tidbit of information in minutes. Tracy is the inventor of a room-sized computer [complete with punch cards] set to replace her. Need I tell you that Hepburn defeats the machine and wins Tracy?
There were many things that were better in those days, not the least of which was a still vibrant labor union movement. But I have to confess that I could no longer survive without Google. I gather that in the works these days are electronic eyeglasses that will project information before my eyes as I walk through the world. I assume it will communicate directly with my brain, thereby obviating the tedious ritual of typing questions onto a keyboard or tapping them onto a screen.
Of course, there is the old computer problem, Garbage in, garbage out. Probably even my futuristic eyeglasses will not come up with "Karl Marx" when I form in my mind the question, "Who is the greatest social scientist of all time." So I suppose there is some point in my teaching that course at UNC next semester.