Google Killed the Library

Why does Hermione Granger go to the library instead of just Googling it?

Adam Gopnik notes how fundamentally the Internet has changed our perceptions:

When the first Harry Potter book appeared, in 1997, it was just a year before the universal search engine Google was launched. And so Hermione Granger, that charming grind, still goes to the Hogwarts library and spends hours and hours working her way through the stacks, finding out what a basilisk is or how to make a love potion. The idea that a wizard in training might have, instead, a magic pad where she could inscribe a name and in half a second have an avalanche of news stories, scholarly articles, books, and images (including images she shouldn’t be looking at) was a Quidditch broom too far. Now, having been stuck with the library shtick, she has to go on working the stacks in the Harry Potter movies, while the kids who have since come of age nudge their parents. “Why is she doing that?” they whisper. “Why doesn’t she just Google it?”

In fairness to J.K. Rowling, the books are set in the immediate pre-Google era:

The main narrative of the novels is set in the years 1991-98, with significant memories from the year 1976 (Harry’s parents’ Ordinary Wizarding Level (OWL) year) and memories from various determinable and undeterminable periods after 1945; though little reference is made to features of any period. The only specific dates given in the series are in the last book, on the grave of James and Lily Potter which identifies them to have died in 1981, and in on Nearly Headless Nick’s deathday cake in Chamber of Secrets, which points out the date as 1992.

But, of course, 1998 may as well be 1938 to a 12-year-old: It’s simply the Olden Days.

FILED UNDER: Popular Culture, Quick Takes, Science & Technology
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. sam says:

    Also, it’s kinda hard to imagine that all that magical stuff would be put out on the publicly accessible internet so that the muggles could have access to it. Not impossible, but unlikely. Now there might be some sort of wizardnet, but my take is that the wizard world doesn’t have much truck with the technology of the muggle world (for the simple reason, who needs it?). Recall that Ron’s father is absolutely fascinated with muggle tech. It’s so, you know, alien.

  2. Alex Knapp says:

    Anyone who relies on Google for serious research is not going to end up very successful. Personally, I’ve found Google to be less and less useful as time goes on, unless I’m looking for local businesses. And even then it’s less useful if those businesses don’t have websites.

  3. Kylopod says:

    The magical society in Harry Potter isn’t supposed to be advanced in every way over the “muggle” world. For example, they use owls instead of telephones. I assume that if Rowling ever continued the series to show what happens in the 2000s, the wizarding world would still ignore the Internet, just as they largely ignore computers, TV, and radio even though all those things existed at the time Rowling began her series.

  4. Kylopod says:

    Also, I should note that other authors of contemporary fantasy are typically bolder than Rowling in mixing the contemporary world with the magical one. In a sense, she’s more of a traditionalist, who sets the wizarding world within our own modern world but keeps a certain barrier between the two. As a contrast, here is a passage from Widdershins, a book by Charles de Lint, one of the masters of contemporary fantasy:

    He was a curious little man, born a treekin—a kind of fairy about the height of a man’s knee, made of twigs and mulch and leaves and moss, all held together in the shape of a human body with a weaving of braided grasses and vines. Treekin needed to replenish their body parts from time to time—when a twig got old and chipped, or when a grass braid snapped and the press of leaves and moss that gave shape to limbs began to fall away. The materials they needed for repair were easy to find, even in a city, for there were always gardens and parks to plunder amongst the tall towers of concrete and steel.

    But in the past few decades, many of the treekin began to utilize bits and pieces of electronics and computer parts for their repairs, metamorphosing over time into creatures made as much of wiring and circuitry as they were of organic material. Eventually, some, like Edgan, became creatures entirely made of synthetic castoffs; each techno treekin—as they came to be called—as individual as the materials they were able to scrounge. In Edgan’s case, he had a torso built up around a computer motherboard; his limbs and head were a complicated tangle of wiring and less identifiable objects, though his nose was certainly a spark plug and his eyes a pair of camera lenses.

    He was in Computer World tonight because he’d recently seen another of the techno treekin sporting an iPod in the twisting snarl of wires that held her torso together, and he simply had to have one himself. He already had a PDA wired into his motherboard body—as well as a digital camera and a pair of cell phones—but its memory capacity couldn’t match the sixty gigabytes of the iPod. The iPod would be perfect for storing the data he pilfered from the Internet, but he also liked the shiny whiteness of its case for how it matched his spark plug nose.

  5. G.A.Phillips says:

    Goggle sucks!!!!! ***Anyone who relies on Google for serious research is not going to end up very successful. ***

    But if you have an idea of what your looking for and have an idea of it being trust worthy it’s semi helpful. mostly you get nine yards of attacks and add type sites having to do with any thing importantly political, historical or religious.

    Harry Potter sucks!!!! I’m sorry but the whole series is garbage and I am just sick of hearing about it.

    You want to read a masterpiece series about a boy wizard in training.
    http://www.mythadventures.net/

  6. Franklin says:

    Anyone who relies on Google for serious research is not going to end up very successful.

    I think it depends on your field. For scientific and engineering, Google has links to plenty of papers. Some are behind some sort of paywall, sure, but Google finds them.

  7. JKB says:

    Sadly, far to many are not developing the other “critical thinking” that is needed to really use Google. That is a skepticism that something doesn’t sound right, the site doesn’t seem right or the information is of importance that you need more than one source. And, of course, Google-sense, that 7th sense that the multitudes of sites offering information on a topic seem to all be derived from the same unnamed source. On the upside, in the Google world, it is hard to suppress skeptical opinions that might cause those seeking information to question what has been presented.

    Of course, this same “critical thinking” is needed for books and libraries. Many tried to substitute “peer review” but as we’ve seen consensus isn’t always correct and those with a stake in the game aren’t always trustworthy in their independence and skepticism.

  8. john personna says:

    Of course, this same “critical thinking” is needed for books and libraries. Many tried to substitute “peer review” but as we’ve seen consensus isn’t always correct and those with a stake in the game aren’t always trustworthy in their independence and skepticism.

    Got an example?

    I hope this isn’t a dog whistle for a flat earth or global cooling or something.