Rummaging through a flea market in Chelsea one weekend, I came across a binocular viewer with a long extended board attached to a wooden handle. Thinking it was a measuring or aiming device of some sort, possibly even a part of a weapon with a viewfinder, I decided to buy it. As I proceeded to the vendor to pay for my curious new find, a passer-by advised: “You might want to buy some cards with that,” gesturing towards a cardboard box filed with a stack of grey mounted cards. I found a stereoscope–the first 3D device that was invented in 1838.
So I spent 16 weeks with this little guy, researching its history and culture without the aid of Google. That’s right–this research class also known as “No Google” forbids us from using the Internet, which seems like a pretty crazy idea these days. But this project introduced me to a lot of things (for one, that is how I became the Foursquare mayor of the New York Public Library). I found the picture collection, the periodicals and microforms section, the local history section, and all the other nooks of the library I never visited before. I had some interesting conversations, used directory books for telephone numbers and addresses, went through all the National Geographic back issues from 1950-58 to look for ads, and had to read a rare book on optics which had pages that were literally chipping as I flipped them. It was frustrating when books weren’t available, if I didn’t skim fast enough to know if something was even relevant (and no Ctrl+F!) and when librarians assumed I Googled for background reading, they almost seemed irritated with basic enquiries, like “when was the stereoscope invented?”
I was told many times, “just Google it!”
And all of this ended up in a 2,000 word paper and presentation (but more on that later). I love Google, but as I tweeted for One Day for Design, Google searches are often an uninspiring place to start. Internet searches help clear up a lot of things, but the process is definitely not as rewarding as scavenging through real things. Hopefully even with these limitations lifted, I’ll still be motivated to do these in-person searches for thesis next year (although, winter weather is very discouraging).
PS. Coincidentally, it was Google Doodle that reminded me the Great Exhibition of 1851 at the Crystal Palace happened 160 years today. It was here that the stereoscope was presented to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and unveiled to the world.