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What it used to be like to look things up

Flash back 9 years – What it used to be like to look things up – by James Somers, February 12, 2010: “Yesterday a paper I was reading made reference to a “Galtonian composite photograph.” From the context I had a vague idea of what the phrase referred to, but I wanted to learn more. So I:

  1. Googled “Galton” and clicked on the first result, the Wikipedia page for Sir Francis Galton.
  2. Searched the text there for “composite,” which turned up the following:

    Galton also devised a technique called composite photography, described in detail in Inquiries in human faculty and its development

  3. Googled once again for “Inquiries in human faculty and its development” (no quotes), which turned up a complete Google Books entry.
  4. Searched inside that text for “composite,” and found, finally, “Appendix A.—Composite Portraiture,” which contained everything I might want to know on the subject.

The whole process took about two minutes. I couldn’t help but wonder, though, what my search would have looked like forty years ago, long before the Internet and the proliferation of personal computers. How would I have traced a casual allusion to its source?..”

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