Ah, the information age — and the information overload!
At 4am this morning I was already feeding a baby when another child began to cry, so I sent Hubby in to handle things. Hubby came back with bad news: “He says his ear hurts. What do I give him?”
Other mothers would probably have an immediate answer ready, but I was lacking in ear-infection experience. Tied down with a baby, I turned to my iPhone and Googled natural remedies for earaches — only to be overwhelmed by the options and frightened by the possibility that I could do something wrong and damage my child’s hearing.
How glad I was to have a book to turn to! My copy of Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal is about to reach its renewal limit at the library, but I’m glad I had it this morning. It helped me and some neighbors through sore throats a month or two ago, it gave me an amazing lotion recipe that cured my dry skin patches, and I felt confident turning to it for advice on earaches, especially since it has a section focused on children.
One of the first tips that it listed (which, yes, I had also found online, but amongst dozens of other competing strategies) was to heat an onion and let the vapors of it — those same potent ones that make our eyes water — soothe the pain in the ear. Within a minute our three-year-old was calmly nestled on my lap and no longer crying. His ear didn’t hurt any more, but I kept the onion next to it for a while just to be sure. It’s now twelve hours later and the pain hasn’t come back.
Earlier this week the homework assignment for my intermediate students was to find two books they could use as resources on their chosen topics, and several asked me, “Why books?” Couldn’t magazines or something else could count?
It’s sort of a blurry question, isn’t it? In some cases you can find the same information online that you could in a book. The onion strategy wasn’t unique to the family herbal guide; I found it through Googling as well. So what’s the difference then?
Here’s where you might expect me to get all teacherly and tell you, but the funny thing is that I don’t have a concrete answer. The textbook that we’re not using (my students voted to read a variety of supplemental material instead) has a whole chapter on balancing your sources with print and electronic sources and primary research, but even their reasons feel blurry. After all, most print sources are also available electronically these days. While there are sometimes slight differences in content, like that newspapers include fuller versions of articles online than in newsprint and magazines use fewer images online than in the glossies, for the most part an electronic version of a certain title has the same info as the print one.
In my case, the difference often seems to be a tad emotional. When my child is crying because his ear hurts, I like the solidness of a trusted book over the flimsy feel of a forum of visitor-defined “facts” (the other place I found the onion suggestion).
Maybe it’s sort of like the post I wrote a while back about writing by hand versus typing: while both accomplish the same feat (creating words on a blank surface), they utilize different areas of our brains and connect us to the words in different ways. I’m willing to bet that reading different mediums creates a similar difference in how we connect to the text.
For example, when I grade student papers that have been printed out, it’s a different experience than grading the ones submitted by email. It doesn’t affect the grade they receive (I’m careful to check myself against a rubric to stay consistent), but it does affect how I interact with their paper, such as how fast I read and the way I think about it and make comments.
On the other hand, maybe all of that is just me blowing smoke and the real underlying difference isn’t the medium at all but the level of trust and rapport you have with the author. The remedy book had a good track record with me, and I’d connected well with the author’s tone and philosophies; the forum, on the other hand, was completely unfamiliar to me. But when a post showed up in my email today from a blog to which I subscribe and the title of it suggested an answer to a question I’d had about salt intake (yep, I should have bought some Real Salt for myself as well as for my parents a few weeks ago), I read it and accepted the information gladly because I’ve become fond of the blog and have appreciated the worldview and level of research of the author. In that case I didn’t need a physical book to convince me because I already trusted the source.
Finally, I wonder if the medium only matters in so far as established habits are concerned. When I grade papers, I’m used to having a pen in my hand to circle and underline with, drawing checkmarks and scribbling questions. Having to switch over to typing comments on a screen throws me off and makes me feel slightly more agitated.
Similarly, I’m having trouble adjusting to e-books not because they’re not wonderfully convenient but because I can’t get over wanting to thumb through pages to find what I want. When I brought an e-book to class earlier this week and suddenly wanted to find an excerpt from it to read to the students, I gave up because I couldn’t just open it to the approximate page and scan quickly. I’m sure some of you are hollering, “E-books are way faster at finding excerpts! Why didn’t you just type in a search word?” So maybe it’s just a matter of changing my habits.
Funny enough, it’s even true with blogs. The medium is always electronic, yes, but I’m used to reading them on my laptop, and now that I use my iPhone more often, I’m reluctant to switch to the smaller format, so I don’t keep up with my favorite blogs as often.
What can I say? We’re creatures of habit.
What are your opinions? When do you turn to Google? To physical books? To certain blogs or sites? To e-books? Do you have clear distinctions about what questions best suit each medium, or do you use whatever’s most handy? How do you go about finding and trusting tips for earaches and tricks with onions? Do you think there are definite advantages to books over other sources?