Thursday, May 31, 2007

Seam-Stretched Backpacks

"Tick, a rail thin sophomore, lugged all her books in a canvas L.L. Bean backpack and had to lean forward, as if into a strong headwind, to balance a weight nearly as great as her own. Oddly, most of the conventions Miles remembered from high school had been subverted. He and his friends had carried their textbooks balanced on their hips, listing first to the left, then shifting the load and listing to the right. They brought home only the books they would need for that night, or the ones they remembered needing, leaving the rest crammed in their lockers. Kids today stuffed the the entire contents of their lockers into their seam-stretched backpacks and brought it all home, probably, Miles figured, so they wouldn't have think through what they'd need and what they could do without, thereby avoiding the kinds of decisions that might trail consequences." --from Empire Falls by Richard Russo (page 20).

One of the biggest changes of today's generation from the last is not necessarily the younger generations inability to pack, but it is our increased reliance on accessibility.

The heavy backpack students carry is just a prequel to those generations reliance on Internet resources. As these students bring home their math, science, and history worksheets, they don't bring home these books planning to read them, but instead planning on digging out information when and if needed.

The heavy backpack syndrome isn't necessarily as big of an issue as it was even ten years ago in many places as many schools have cut expenses by only having classroom book sets instead of issuing each student their own textbook. I'm sure the future of the online textbook is not very far away.

But today each of us carries a very large backpack of accessible information. Some days I long for the drudge, challenge, and commonality of the library trip were you'd scour the shelves for information you might need or be interested in, but today it's all at our fingertips.

With all of this information accessible to us, our giant backpack of information it is a blessing and a curse. As a blessing, there is so much information we don't need to know, but more than that no how to find. The curse is that we've subjected ourselves to second and third hand information. If I want to learn about anything, a Google search will point me in the directions of businesses and pay-per-click advertisers who are interested in my business and consumer purchase power, more than by informability.

In the same way heavy backpacks have given kids spine problems, the ever expanded accessibility of information can be crippling to as this backpack of accessible information becomes increasingly filled with information that is hardly beneficial at all.

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Dad said...

sounds like you need a vacation

AK said...

Never discount that trudge to the library! Even though the internet is gaining more and more reliable sites it is also gaining more and more unreliable information. Anyone can post whatever they want!
There is also something to be said for spending the time researching and digging for the best information instead of the instant gratification of typing your query into Google and taking whatever comes up first (regardless of its reliability). Of course, I'm sure you expect a comment like this from me. But, I appreciate your comments on the subject and agree with you. The internet is great for many things (how did we ever find good flights before?) but I think it is vital that we use it for what it is good for and keep in mind that just because something is posted on a website it is not necessarily fact.

crackers and cheese said...

Hmm, very interesting post, and I think it's very true. I shudder when I hear the phrase "lit review." I wonder if I had grown up a generation earlier if I wouldn't feel so adverse to searching through articles and books to find relevant information? Maybe graduate school will teach to me appreciate the hunt that AK describes instead of instant gratification from google type sources - but I'm not holding my breath :)