When I was in college, I remember a few guys getting awfully excited after sending a message (something about pizza) via a VAX system in the library over to the physics lab. I was mystified—c'mon, are you that lazy? Those were the days: Communicating with a professor meant signing up for office hours at 2:30 on a Thursday, and getting a paper in on time meant sprinting to the computer lab with a diskette to wait frantically as the dot-matrix printer took its sweet time swinging from side to side. Suffice it to say, the Internet as we know it was the stuff of dreams back in the late 80s.
That's why I was fascinated as I listened to seven of our beloved summer interns (ages 17-34) banter on about the Internet's role in academia today during a recent roundtable discussion. (If you missed the first one on social media, catch it here.) I discovered that a site called SparkNotes has replaced the bumblebee-colored Cliff Notes we all hid from our teachers. And that the Dewey Decimal System has been marginalized by sites like Wikipedia, Yahoo! Answers, Google Scholar, Digg and Howstuffworks — though I was heartened to hear predictions that the good old-fashioned library won't soon go the way of the buffalo. Language translation sites like Babel Fish are helpful resources but continue to suffer lazy fools gladly. The rumor mill about which professors give droning lectures has been replaced with RateMyProfessor and the like. Lousy note-takers now have salvation with ZeroHomework. And in spite of easy access to papers published online, kids are vigilant about plagiarism, thanks to sites like TurnItIn.
All of our interns have since returned to dorm rooms, cafeterias and library carrels around the world. They leave me wondering how different high school and college would've been with DSL juicing my life. Clearly it's benefited this smart bunch.