I have never kept specific track, but I probably click on Google at least a dozen times a day to satisfy my ravenous curiosity. Recent results from my preferred search engine have run a typically-random gamut. When Meredith Viera appeared much shorter than those standing near her, I found her height to be 5’3”. When I could only come up with Anchorage, Nome, and Juneau as Alaskan cities for a puzzle I was doing, Google filled in Ketchikan and Kodiak for me. I tracked down the address of a former student to send a sympathy card for her mother and learned that the florist in Westerville during my college years is still in business. I accidentally discovered that 245 people live on Boyce Street, and now I know – thanks to Google Images – that a truckle bed closely resembles a trundle bed. Is this Google-generated information essential for daily survival? Not really, but its triviality fascinates and entertains me. And one of those bits of knowledge just might be the Final Jeopardy question, if I ever…
Occasionally, however, I think back to the fifty years I spent without my pal Google at my fingertips, back to the times of encyclopedia and the county library. A report on Thomas Jefferson or Brazil or monarch butterflies was a typical type of grade-school assignment for which a book from the classroom library was too much and the information from a textbook too little. But access to the complete, updated set of World Book Encyclopedia was substantially limited by county library hours – and just as restricted by a car trip on a weeknight, five needy children, and a hungry husband.
At least in high school, we had the school library, whose dimensions always lagged behind the number of students and size of its collection. As a student librarian at GHS and a part-time employee at the county library, I fortunately became adept at using the card catalog for the increasingly-complicated assignments I received.
In college the name of the game was the term paper, a research paper based on information retrieval. I slowly mastered the notecard system: one source per bibliography card and a single, paraphrased item or direct quotation per topic card. When I gave myself sufficient time to stick with the notecard approach, the actual writing practically flowed from my pen.
Key to those undergraduate and graduate papers was the latest possible information, mostly contained in magazines. The next new skill, then, was mastery of the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature, basically a printed version of what Google would become. Copies of this index, with its mint-green paper cover, could be found on the library shelves at GHS, the county library, Otterbein’s library. Articles from every major magazine were indexed according to topic: one had only to complete a request form for the desired periodical, wait while the librarian retrieved it from the archives, record notes on the appropriate cards, and return the periodical to the desk. Wow, the mere memory of those time-consuming logistics is exhausting!
Following my transition from teaching freshman English, I realized my German students had little need for research skills, but my own search needs multiplied and multiplied again. Always on the hunt for interesting, non-textbook materials at a level my kids could understand, I frequently traveled to Ohio State student bookstores with paltry success. Google was still years in the future.
A trip back to Buckeye Country sometime in the 1990s, however, foreshadowed what was soon no longer to be. In need of the lyrics to an old German folksong, the massive OSU library was my last resort. After looking helplessly at the computer there, I unearthed the card catalog in a dimly-lit, cobweb-infested side room. At least, I was searching for an old book in the outdated cabinet drawers.
Eventually the 21st century arrived, and the powers-that-be plopped a computer on my desk with orders to use it. Their eyes rolling and chuckles emanating, my students taught me what I needed to know on my journey through cyberspace. Just as I was feeling secure with the rudiments of Yahoo, someone mentioned Google – and the life I had known arrived at the brink of change.
Before retiring ten years ago, I found myself regularly accessing Google.de for scads of German “stuff” to flash up on the projection screen. Oh, if only Google had been around years earlier.
My daily buddy always waiting for me inside my Kindle tablet has a name based on “googol,” a number with 100 zeros. This unfathomable numerical figure, coined in the 1940s, represents the limitless possibilities of Google’s search powers. Today’s search engine began as a research project at Stanford University by two Ph.D. students, who founded the company in 1998.
Now that the noun also functions as a verb, I google items for practically every “Boomer Blog” column I write. I also find recipes and cross-stitch patterns, word definitions and weather conditions. The list is endless – as is the range of Google. Just the other day I noticed that Tony Dow – Beaver Cleaver’s older brother – had directed an episode of Coach. Google led me to his filmography page: Wally also directed several episodes of Babylon 5. Who knew?
But now I must excuse myself. I need to check the results of today’s NASCAR race to see how my nephew’s driver finished. I am off to Google – again!
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.