Back in the early days of the internet I recall wondering how it could be used for research. I was teaching at Nashotah House at the time and knew of no online resources that couldn’t be had in print. All of that has changed, of course, with the web becoming the collective brain of humanity. I tend to use it for research for my fictional tales. Need to remember a detail about some obscure location you once visited in Scotland? Check—either Ecosia or Google will take you right there. Memory problem solved. For some kinds of facts, however, it’s still a struggle. There’s the infamous paywall, for example. Your search brings you right to the info, but you have to pay for the privilege of reading it. Commercial sites require a subscription that, although it has a cancellation policy, you know you’ll end up paying for forever. University library websites are even more jealous of guarding their secret knowledge.
Fiction research often involves trying to find general information. What some specific object is called, for example, or whether there was actually a Burger King in the location about which you’re writing, at the time your story is set. Fiction writing is an exercise of the imagination, but verisimilitude can make all the difference. Just because it’s fiction doesn’t mean it can’t be factual. Here’s where another limitation arises. If your query can be commodified, it will. You’ll find yourself wading through pages and pages of vendors trying to sell you stuff, as if knowledge for knowledge’s sake is moribund. Even WordPress gets into the act. If your Premium plan fills up, you’re only option is to “upgrade” to Business or E-Commerce, where you make money on your account. (This blog remains free.)
I don’t make any money off this blog. I use it to share the little I’ve figured out by looking deeply at the world—quite often involving observations about religion or books—over half-a-century. Like many academics I believe knowledge should be free (ah, but they get paid for keeping it within the walls of the university with the occasional free cookie outside. Or better yet, a paying engagement). I don’t go to websites to be sold anything. I maybe want to remember what a Quisp box looked like in 1969 without wanting to special order a box. For sure, the web is a great place to buy the things you need. At times, however, all you’re looking for is information. At that point your price will be the time it takes to scroll through countless pages that assume you’re here to buy, not just to browse.