I was saying (well, writing in an e-mail) to a friend yesterday that people often, in daily speech, quote someone without knowing whom, or from what work, indeed usually quite unaware that they are quoting. I mentioned the phrase ‘One fell swoop’ as an example. Predictably, she asks today where the phrase comes from, and I told her it’s from the Scottish Play. (I worked in the theatre for many years, and one of its superstitions is that this play must not be named (or indeed quoted from offstage.) But we’re not in the theatre now, so: Macbeth.) But I didn’t say where in Macbeth. Not so long ago, she would have had to find a copy and wade through it (though ‘wade’ is perhaps not the word; it’s as gripping as any popular modern murder mystery) to find the words. Now of course she can find the play’s text on the internet and use a text search to get the phrase. Bingo, instant knowledge.
That’s what’s wrong with most ‘learning’ from the internet. It doesn’t have to be like that, but human nature being what it is most people just use a Google search to find the tiny scrap of information which is all they think they need just now. So they get impressive quantities of isolated knowledge, but they don’t learn to ‘Only Connect’ (another quotation) in the sense the person who said ‘Only connect’ had in mind. It’s rather like studying English Literature by reading the Oxford Dictionary. You’d find out all sorts of stuff. That’s all you’d do.
The Internet can make you into a smartarse; it’s unlikely to educate you. (Unless of course you read my blog.)