It would be wrong for me to describe the Internet as a force for good or evil. It’d be wrong to describe it as neutral: the infrastructure needed to support it is so vastly resource intensive that it requires more resources than the Earth has to support it.
However, I can say that the Internet is incredibly useful.
I worked through a first draft of a the other week, turning it into a second draft. I had done an awful lot of reading for the story. But that all required hours of careful combing through search results, and took many weeks.
I had a browser window open behind my document, and called it up whenever I hit a stumbling block. Well, just a little pause to fact check here and there. It took me less than five minutes to look up each one of the following:
- When mops were first mentioned in English
- What a well-muscled man looks like while wearing a shirt
- The military campaigns of Alfred the Great and Edward, the Black Prince
- The name of Aragorn’s sword
- The provenance of the Anglo-Saxon epic, Beowulf
- The provenance of Beowulf’s sword ( Nægling, not Hrunting)
- Jails in London in the eighteenth century
- The accuracy of John Harrison’s H4 Maritime Timekeeper
- History of matches and how to use a tinderbox
- The correct spelling of ‘heel’
- Whether to write, ‘a historian’ or ‘an historian’
- A description of keelhauling
- The colour of storm clouds at sea
- The name of the boats used to get from a tall ship to the shore
- Checking what I thought was a tiller was actually a tiller
- When to use ‘sank’ and ‘sunk’
Just take a few moments to look at that list. We have military history, maritime history, grammar, social history, English literature, navel history and two image searches. Without the Internet, I’d have been down the library, pawing through book after book, hunting down those answers like Elmer Thudd hunting wabbits.
Libraries have their place. The Internet is wonderful for surface-deep research, but if you really want to get into the heart of something you still need books and archives. And if you want to pierce the heart, then it’s people you need to find.
However, when you don’t need to go beneath the surface–for example, if you’re writing an alt-history spec-fic story–the Internet is a very useful thing.