Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Internet and the Dictionary

It was not much more than ten years ago that the Internet first began getting hot, and I signed on for the ride. Actually, it wasn't the Internet per se but a bulletin board and email service for teachers with a limited gateway to the Internet. After several months of slipshod service and text-only browsing, I was ready for the real thing and blazed onto the Information Highway at a modem speed of 14.4 kbps.

I thought it absolutely amazing and wonderful to surf from one country to the next and to email people from all over the planet: Singapore, Japan, Israel, the UK, and of course Canada and the US. It was, and it still is, but I tend to take it for granted now.

My next computer whizzed around the Net at double the speed (28.8 kbps), and the one after that doubled the speed again (56 kbps). I stayed at that speed for quite a while. I resisted moving to high speed/broadband because I didn't want to get too used to it should we decide to move to a remote area with slow service. Even now, when we go to the cottage, the maximum speed that I obtain is 28.8, and it is sometimes below 20.

What I am getting at is this: now that internet access is so fast, I'd rather find a file online than on my own computer — it's quicker. For example: I was recently backing up some blogs. It was easier for me to re-download the picture from my own blog rather than search for it on my computer.

Searching to check a spelling, meaning, or looking for a synonym is so much easier and faster than getting up, finding my dictionary and/or thesaurus and thumbing through the pages. That's the rather obscure point of the above obscure graphic. Using Firefox, I can download extensions for an immediate search. To the right, you can see (well perhaps you can't see at this size) my current searches.

My most frequently used extended search is I simply press CTRL + T to open a new browser tab, so that I can keep the window that I was working on — say, a blog. I type the word into the search bar, press ENTER and have my definition in no time flat. Then, I click back to my blog entry or whatever, and continue my work (for that is what I choose to call it, my friend).

This is pretty darn important to me because my spelling is not getting any better. Let me see, if you want to spell occurrence, do you double the C, the R, or both? Does it end with an ance or an ence? Frankly, I no longer have a clue.

Part of it is because I am a Canadian, stuck between American and British English and not knowing which way is up. Do I spell it defence or defense, license or licence? I don't know; I have lost my way. Do we practise or practice? I think the Canadian way is to use practise for the verb and practice for the noun, but I am no longer certain of anything pertaining to this language.

This probably didn't confuse me at all at one time. Doubtless, I was taught the proper Canadian way in school and was never truly aware that there was another way. As I think about it, I am sure that every novel we ever read in school was of Canadian/British origin. These days, however, I am exposed to both varieties of English, including certain Canadian variants, and I can't seem to remember which usage is most proper for me. It must be so easy to be a Yank or a Brit and to always be certain of the one and only correct way. Now, I know both ways, but I can never recall which one is correct for me, or indeed if I might be hallucinating and there really is only one proper way and, now in my confusion, I just think that there is another.

They say that knowledge is power, but I am finding that it results in confusion.



karla said...

How true this is! I would be completely lost without the Internet. I could easily write a post to follow up with the "Internet and the Dictionary" about "The Internet and the Phonebook". I immediately recycle any phonebook or yellowpages directory left at my door. Its so much faster to find what you are looking for online!

Dora said...

I can't even remember what my life was like before internet.
Information is confusing - knowledge is what is left over once you weed out all the bullshit.
You seem very knowledgable and wise to me.

Iona said...

So true!
I also use Firefox and I always have several windows/tabs open at the same time, searching for all kind of things.
The only thing I don't use is I once bought a (paper) dictionary from the bookstore and got a free CDRom along with it. I now have the English Concise Dictionary installed on my computer. It opens very fast and I use it al the time!

It was funny, just today I was mailing to someone about my Canon lenses and I couldn't remember what lenses I exactly have.
Instead of getting up from the couch and checking my lenses, I went online to the Canon website to check what lens it was again that I had purchased! Much easier!

I'm also stuck with the language sometimes. Color or colour, realise or realize.. And for some weird reason I always get "ness-, necc-, necessary" wrong!!

Christi said...

My husband gets so tired of me running to the internet anytime ANY question comes up. I'm with Karla, I don't even acknowledge phonebooks anymore, or dictionaries. I'm supposed to teach my students how to use them, and I won't even go near them! Where would I be now w/o the internet? I swear I can't remember life before it...

-epm said...

I'm a big fan of Firefox. But when it comes to a dictionary, I use an ancient (by computer standards) copy of Microsoft's World English Dictionary. Simply highlight the word in question and click the icon in the system tray. It's a great little dictionary/thesaurus. Of course this is only available for Windows, so at home on my Mac I use the search on Firefox.

For searching for stuff on a PC, I haven't found anything better than Copernic Desktop Search. It's fast and effective and makes Windows' built-in search look like the pathetic dud it is. No Mac version, but the Mac OS X search functionality is perfectly serviceable, and promises to get better with the arival of 10.4 this summer.

Still, I keep a well-worn, fuzzy-edged and yellow tinged copy of Websters Desktop Reference on my desk, and indeed refer to it from time to time. Besides, I like the smell of old books.

Dale said...

Pfff! Come on, Anvilcloud. Get with the program(me), eh?

swamp4me said...

I use the internet for many, many things and would feel bereft without it. However, when it comes to looking up a word, I still use my bound dictionaries. I love the feel of them, the fragrance of the pages, and best of all, the opportunities they provide for discovering other words along the way. Using a dictionary carries me back to childhood days and reminds of my mother. We would start to look up a definition for one word and then spend half an hour exploring other words.

Jones said...

This article is the truth about the Internet. Where we've come from (the incredibly slow 14.4)and where we are at this present day. The internet has made us lazier, and I always catch myself downloading things from the internet even though I already have them on my computer already! It's very easy to download from the internet than search for anything on my own computer!

Jones said...

This article is the truth about the Internet. Where we've come from (the incredibly slow 14.4)and where we are at this present day. The internet has made us lazier, and I always catch myself downloading things from the internet even though I already have them on my computer already! It's very easy to download from the internet than search for anything on my own computer!

Jennifer Swanepoel said...

Sometimes truth is funny.

I've been on Spring Break all week, and instead of being at the beach, where I should be, considering it's a 15 minute drive, I've been at this computer for most of the time playing with my blogs and exploring all kinds of stuff. We have to be so careful!!!

blue2go said...

I remember working at a university 12 years ago and how they had these wonderful new things called hyperlinks, where you could just click on them and go to the information!