The shift from paper to the tools of a simple laptop has brought about a new age of research, and it's mostly good news for readers and writers alike.
With the academic year now safely concluded, I have the summer months to pursue a writer's life. I've signed on to write a "biography" of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer for this Princeton University Press series, and right now I'm about 30,000 words in. Lately, when I sit down in the morning to get started on my labors for the day, I've found myself thinking about how the work of writing has changed for me since I wrote my first book, some fifteen years ago. I was using an Apple laptop then -- a PowerBook 100, which I had bought at about the time it was discontinued and then used for five or six years -- and I'm using an Apple laptop now. I relied on a range of scholarly, critical, and literary sources then, and I do so now. But at this point the similarities pretty much end. And the new world of research may be taking us down some highly promising paths.
Fifteen years ago my laptop was surrounded by books, some of which I owned, some I had checked out from my college's library or from the local public library, some I had ordered from other libraries. And then there were the photocopied articles, so many that I had organized them roughly by subject and gathered them into three-ring binders. So my large desk was covered with open books and binders, overlapping, stacked, some propped open by others. Maybe one corner of the laptop would be used to hold a book open, at the cost of an unstable keyboard. If the laptop was plugged into the college network, I might have had Pine open for email -- though I didn't get many emails -- and telnet for checking library catalogs. Other than that, it was MS Word 5.1 all the time.