I resisted a lot of things back in the 90s and one of them was the Internet. The other was cell phones. I didn’t want to complicate my life with stuff that I didn’t need. It made sense at the time. My life was complicated enough trying to provide for me and my dogs the stuff we needed. But it was a case of I didn’t get it…
I agreed to baby-sit Bonny, an Akita/Golden mix, for some friends who were going to Korea to teach. They wanted me to get the internet at home so we could email. I didn’t want to email. I didn’t have the internet at home. SO… I didn’t hear for them for the whole year. They didn’t send money for food, either, which was part of the deal. I ended up (it was no punishment; Bonny Honey was a wonderful dog) thinking they’d abandoned Bonny Honey. When they got back, I didn’t want to give back their dog. BUT a long tear-filled heart-to-heart revealed the hell that year had been for them.
I write historical fiction which means I do a lot of research. All four of my historical novels is almost a PhD dissertation in terms of research (but no citations needed 🙂 ). I did all the research for Martin of Gfenn the old-school way, in the library. Thank goodness I was at San Diego State at the time and had access to everything there as well as online sources I could access from the writing lab where I was working at the time. Even my tiny cell phone could give me access to the Catholic Encyclopedia. I could see it was a Brave New World.
Using (comparatively very fast) computers in the libraries of the schools in which I taught, and in my various offices, I’d learned everything necessary to teach my students all they needed to know about online research. It was fascinating to use search engines such as Alta Vista to do research. I did use them, and since I didn’t have the Internet at home, I printed out pages and pages of answers to questions I had about medieval life in Switzerland.
Still it was a while before I got the Internet at home. And when I did, it was dial-up.
A few years later, having made the transition to a more online life, I went online and found a Swiss Medievalist Historian who had written about the very place in which Martin of Gfenn is set. I emailed him. In 2005 we met up in Zürich and that led to one of the absolute best days of my whole life.
Connections made online can be as “real” as face-to-face connections. I have online friends I’ve known for more than a decade. It’s a different kind of communication in its way, as anyone reading this blog knows. However, I feel as a writer that something is lost in the manner of doing research this way.
Online research yields fast answers as well as access to data bases and sources all over the world. Writing three more novels after Martin of Gfenn, all also written about Switzerland, I have been able to use Switzerland’s amazing Swiss Lexicon to research for the novels I wrote after Martin of Gfenn. That was an immense boon. It’s published in all the Swiss languages so one way or another I have been able to find information I needed. Everything is there — even old maps! It’s magical and wonder-filled, but finding information is not the same as the ambulatory scavenger hunt of true old-school library research.