GEO. Books or the Internet?

or "when should I use the Internet and when should I use books?"


The following questions and answers are intended to help you decide how and when to use Internet resources as opposed to book resources. The views expressed are personal and I have deliberately included a little bit of speculation on the future of both media types.

Will the computer replace the book some day and are they (books), becoming less and less important?
I don´t know the answer to these questions. Things are developing very fast in some ways and certainly Internet - based resources are becoming very much more important. For something to think about, here´s what Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder, Digital Equipment Corp., said about the development of computers in 1977.

"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home"

Now if you think 1977 is only yesterday, then this prediction seems very funny to us today. On the other hand, 20 years is a long time in the world of computer development and do we now all have computers at home? Unfortunately not. Do we all have high bandwidth - even in schools? That seems to depend very much on where and who you are. In the light of such uncertainty, who would dare predict where books will be after another 20 years? I think it looks as if conventional books are going to be around for a while yet. However, in science, you can be increasingly choosey about what books to use, particularly if better, more up to date information is available on the World Wide Web.

If you are interested in a rather fanciful, but entertaining view of what we might be using instead of the book in a few years time, then read:

Pickering John, 1994. The Hypertextbook. Paradigm:The Journal of the Textbook Society, No. 15, p 23 - 34.

There seems to be an awful lot of earth and planetary science stuff on the Web - for example from NASA. Does this mean that I can find everything there without looking in books. Isn´t everything you find in books on the Internet anyway?
The Web does suit these fields of science especially well and for highschool purposes, you can probably find information on nearly everything you need. I think we are at the stage when no earth science teaching is realistic, unless students have good access to the Internet. However, the information isn´t always in the best form possible. For instance good textbooks with the basics of the subject are still very useful and there aren´t very many of those freely available on the Web. Although more and more books are gradually being transferred to digital form (e.g. in libraries), that´s no guarantee that you will be allowed access to them online.

A lot of the journals seem to have web pages. Does this mean that I don´t need to look at the paper versions any more?
You should look at both journals in libraries and online. Most of the well known journals have a web site. However in many cases they don´t give access to all the contents of current and past issues, except by subscription. Some journals give summaries of the main articles in the current issue. Then there are some "electronic journals" which are only available online, often by subscription.

Do books have any outstanding advantages over web pages?
Well, you can take them with you to bed and when you are travelling. (seriously!). If it´s a question of a lot of text, then they are also more convenient to read than a scrolling video screen. If you see a web site which you can use, but which consists largely of text, then you should consider printing it out and reading it like a book. And think of it - books have all that text and even pictures, in a very small space and without the need for expensive hardware and video screens. That´s pretty high - tech. stuff !?

What about "educational" CD discs - are they as good as the Internet for general earth science information?
They may run faster, especially if you have a slow Internet connection. However, they don´t stay up to date like good web sites do. It´s true that you will see a lot of the same space images and so on on both media types, but there is more and newer material on the Web - no question. Also, all the exciting developments in multimedia technology are taking place on the Web, rather than in disc technology. (at least at the moment).

So when should I definitely turn to the Web before books?
Books can´t tell you what is happening now. Nor do they let you make direct contact with events, places and people. These are all very important elements in science in general and especially in the earth sciences. Also inherent to all science is the element of exploration and discovery. Through the Web you can be a spectator or even a participant as important scientific milestones are reached. For instance it has been possible to watch the same video screen as scientists on board the space shuttle at the same time as they do. Make use of the special pages when you need information or experience of this kind. There are realtime measurements, virtual fieldtrips to all parts of the world, online exhibitions, up to the minute news and analysis of natural events and much more. And don´t forget that you can now do things that were not possible when there were only books, such as contact experts or other students directly.

Can you summarise what I should try to do about the books vs. Internet thing?
Yes. Use them both. Use the Web for all the dimensions which books fall short of being able to provide, but don´t forget the books. One of the easiest and best ways of combining both information sources is from the Web. The library and book pages enable you to do this conveniently.


These pages maintained by Dr Georg R Douglas, Hamrahlíð College, 105 Reykjavík, Iceland