Of course this won’t be my mama’s dissertation, she’s got her own and I’m certain she doesn’t want the hell of writing another one. But in my many conversations with her, the differences between our researching and writing experiences are always apparent. While the Doctorate of Philosophy Degree will always be about thoughts and ideas, technology has greatly changed how we find, exchange, and articulate those ideas.
Most of our chats about my dissertation aren’t about the subject matter as much as my either bemoaning the woes or singing the praises of technology’s impact on the process of getting this thing done. She’s amazed at how I can sit in my bed search, read, save, and mark up dissertations and journal articles from around the world. All this information with just a laptop, and internet connection, and access to IUB’s many e-databases. (I can’t imagine life without JSTOR, AnthroSource and Proquest!) Meanwhile, my mama recounts stories of sifting through the card catalog (remember those & the Dewey Decimal System?) and waiting patiently for dissertations to arrive via inter-library loan. That’s whoa.
My mama earned her Ph.D. in English Literature from Florida State University in the B.E.D. era (Before Electronic Databases). She wrote her dissertation on William Wycherley in time when one had to live in Strozier Library day and night looking at microfiche and pouring over journals and books. One of her greatest allies was the reference librarian at Strozier who assisted her with her many inter-library loan requests for hard to find books and documents. The name, “Mrs. Harris” is very familiar to me as the typist of my mama’s dissertation.
Surely, there are those inhabitants of ABD Land who still prefer to write and research in the hallowed halls of our campuses libraries, or are still on a first name basis with our favorite research librarian, or still prefer to caress the pages of a journal rather than look it up online…Although I can’t think of anyone who’d prefer a typewriter to a computer.
I’m not one of them. I adore the fact that I can’t text, tweet, email, an anonymous person at IU’s library (and get a prompt response). I shout “HALLELUJAH” because my VPN has turned my personal computer into an IU library terminal (even though I’m currently in Atlanta). I rejoice, that my digital library of articles (and even books) weighs only a few pounds which that means I can dissertate from coffee shops, my bed, the couch, a plane, or a beach.
Earlier this week I had google buzz status that said: “Am I the only person who thanx God for things like: being born in the era of washing machines as opposed to washboards?”
There is no doubt that technology has revolutionized the dissertation research and writing process. The convenience of computers and the interent have made certain aspects of the process so easy that it feels like I’m cheating. But there are tradeoffs, with access to endless portals of data, I feel even more responsible to be aware of what everyone has said on my subject, knowing how to search for and sift through information becomes an even more valuable skill (and time-consuming task). And no piece of technology can do the most important (and fun) part, generate the ideas that make my dissertation the original contribution to scholarship that it’s supposed to be.
So “SALUD!” to my mama, and all other B.E.D. Ph.D.’s! You earned your stripes and hopefully I’ll earn mine.
So after all that praise for technology & whatnot. I went to the Auburn Avenue Library and was assisted by a fantastic reference librarian, Ms. Clark, who went far above and beyond to help me out. She even called this author whose conference paper I couldn’t find. She emailed me later that day and sent me his phone number & his reply.
…but of course I’d already googled him and emailed him myself.
Maybe there’s a happy medium between the two experiences after all.