by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
November 29, 2005
St. Simons Island, Ga.
GOOGLE ME THIS, DEAR
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Author Betty Friedan was "googled" and instantly my article called "Feminine Mystique Revisited" came up in the extensive list of sources. A student picked out my name and the personal questionnaire sent to me in this morning's mail was no more than a blatant attempt by that student to have me write her term paper.
With neither salutation nor signature, the girl wrote:
My article was on Betty Friedan's impact on my life. She opened my eyes and, with the exception of doing enough research into her life to justify comments I might write about various aspects of my own life, I cannot be a resource into the life and times of Betty Friedan.
Now, if this young lady read my article (online at http://www.skylinetoshoreline.com/mystique.html and took away a sense of those times, then that would please me. If she needed to verify something I wrote as it applied to me or my life, then I'd respond.
But no. She googled, got my name, found my email address and wrote. She probably wrote to many other sources in Google's long list and perhaps found someone who would answer her list of questions. It wouldn't have surprised me if she wrote: "When you finish, submit it directly to my professor at hisas an attachment, 10 pt font, plain text."
Instead, I wrote:
"Thank you for asking, (her name), but I wrote about the impact Betty Friedan's book had on me and my contemporaries, I am not an expert on Betty Friedan herself. Your question #4, however, leads me to say emphatically "Yes" as to her impact on the lives of women in the early Sixties. She reminded us we had brains and it was great to know the news was getting out. But, (her name), women always knew that.
"Perhaps 'feminists' crowned her a heroine of their movement but I, personally, do not consider myself a feminist in the strictest interpretation. Nothing ever held me back because I was a woman. Nothing.
"Good luck with your paper. All your answers can be found in timelines on the Internet and in later books by Friedan.
"Sincerely, Constance Daley."
I am not suggesting the Internet be left off the list of resources in research. It's my most important source for anything. I don't get up and walk the four feet to my huge dictionary, always open on a mahogany pedestal. It's become a decorating style statement, standing regally as it does right next to the plant stand, but certainly not a source easier than the embedded thesaurus in the word processing program I'm using.
Perhaps it's too easy. The temptation to cut and paste and drag and drop is great, as the student's terse letter presumes. If the young lady could submit her paper via text messaging on her cell phone it would have been done in no time at all. I just clocked how long it would take to find an answer to the question about Friedan's political affiliations. I went to www.ask.com and typed in "Was Betty Friedan a Communist?" A list of sources came up, prominent among them David Horowitz's "Betty Friedan's Secret Communist Past." It took me more time to type that line than to get an answer to the question.
There's a fine line being drawn between research and plagiarism but the Internet swings both ways. A professor friend of mine said that if he's suspicious about a student's paper, he'll take a suspect sentence and "google" it. In seconds, if it's appeared in print before, it will come up and the hoped-for "A" will be replaced with an "F."
The student learns the best lesson of all: In real life, there are no shortcuts. And the argument "I'm never going to use this stuff," doesn't carry any weight. It takes awhile but eventually we learn it's not about "this stuff, " it's about learning "this stuff."
It's obvious the student writing to me cut and pasted the questionnaire right from her assignment just as she will cut and paste any information she gathers from others she's contacted..
You might think it wouldn't have hurt me to answer her questions; after all, I was as you might say, "there." And, you're right, it wouldn't have hurt me but it would hurt her - and this I've learned from my own experience.
In high school, my assignment was to write a review of a book, any book, something we read over the summer. I grabbed Ernie Pyle, a book on the table in the hall at home. I sat on the stone bench in the school yard and wrote a review - copying almost word for word what was written on the inside front cover.
Not only did I get an "F" on that paper but Mrs. Brown wrote across the top: "Please do not use words not of your own coining." I had enough grace to feel shame and never again allowed myself that temptation.
But, more than that, today I cannot write a book review. I've been asked many times to review someone's book and I just don't know the rudimentary imperatives - the critical aspects necessary to do the job. Book reports, yes, but not a review. I never learned "that stuff" - that stuff called analyzing, considering, exploring, probing, dissecting - you know all "that stuff" I was never going to use. Mrs. Brown would have taught me but with all those short cuts out there I didn't think I had to bother taking notes.
All of which proves "Youth is Wasted on the Young" is not just an anonymous throwaway line. Google credits Oscar Wilde, and so must I.