Monday, November 3, 2008

"[T]he shade-tree problem"

A thoughtful take on the disadvantages of instant access:

Googling has become such a routine, comfortable, and seemingly effective part of everyday life, that it's easy to overlook its drawbacks. One of them is what [lawyer and natural-landscaping advocate] Bret Rappaport calls "the shade-tree problem." . . . Imagine, he says, a paralegal in a law firm asked to research case law relating to a Texas client's ire with a neighbor whose tree has grown to overhang the client's lawn, preventing part of the lawn from getting enough sun to survive. The paralegal would likely run to Lexis — the legal world's version of Google — and enter in the keywords tree, lawn, neighbor, and shade. A few cases pop up and are dutifully handed over, wrapping up the chore in five minutes. But thirty years ago, says Rappaport, the paralegal would have hit the Texas law books, running her finger over topic listings and indexes, perhaps intending to look up trees, but noticing there are also sublistings for tree houses, oaks, and bushes. In leafing through the book to check out some of the indicated cases, other cases leap out as interesting and possibly relevant. Perhaps it takes half an hour, but in the end the paralegal uncovers what turns out to be the most useful case in the books, one in which a vine invaded a neighbor's swimming pool, and in which the words tree and lawn never appear. What's more, this more prolonged and varied hunt has imbued the paralegal with a bit of perspective and even expertise in the subject that could come in handy in this case or another one. Over time and many such hunts, the expertise will extend to a range of topics. In other words, the very imprecision and inefficiencies of the conventional search process compared to Googling provides better results and a measure of enrichment, if at a cost in time.

Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman, A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder (New York: Back Bay Books, 2007), 237–38
A related post
Messy desk

comments: 2

Greg and Kris said...

I was thinking about something similar in regards to the music I listen to. I found my box of LPs in the garage and recalled how much time I would spent reading liner notes (did this later with cassettes and CDs, too) and learning who played what on what song and who produced, wrote, etc. I would learn things about the connection between different musicians and begin to buy other people's stuff based on name recognition.

Now? I'm on iTunes and have no clue about who played what, although they do include some bio stuff. Not sure how much I'm losing and gaining, but I do listen to more music now than I did in the nineties, when I drifted away from the whole thing for some reason.

The true joy for me now is that my son is a guitarist and my daughter a DJ and they both turn me on to most of the new music I listen too. I remember taking my daughter to see the Dropkick Murphys when she was 14 and my son to see AD/DC when he was ten. Now they lead the way, having turned me on to Conor Oberst, Cursive, Ratatat, Arcade Fire, and more.

Michael Leddy said...

I find it difficult to imagine getting as much enjoyment from music w/o liner notes. When I was first learning my way around jazz, they helped me put together some idea of who wrote what — for instance, that Johnny Green wrote both "Body and Soul" and "I Cover the Waterfront." As you might guess, I like CDs.

It's great to get music tips from one's children. I owe my kids my interest in Sufjan Stevens. "Dad, it's like SMiLE!" they said. They were right!