The gentleman sitting next to me on the plane remarked that he had just finished visiting the New York legislature. "What is your business?" I queried. "I retired in 1995 as a major general of the marines."

Working in New York for so long, perhaps, made me "too cool" to react openly. And I tend not to push military people too hard unless they see to want to talk about the military, so I didn't ask his name. "I'll find it on Google when I get home," I thought, while taking the time to jot down the initials showing on the monogram on his shirt cuff--"JEL."

Later, a simple Web search for "Major General Marines, retired 1985" produced a hit that showed my companion was James E. Livingston, retired general, and Medal of Honor winner, who was working with the Livingston Group, which is involved in some ATM business--the subject we did talk about.

The point here is not about celebrity. It's about research and how the Internet has made research a part of everyday life. "I'll Google that" is the common expression." Perhaps it still takes something of an investigative turn of mind, but research has moved into everyday life.

Before the Internet and masses of material that have been scanned or posted in files, an exercise like this might have taken me to the library to look for information on Marine Corps officers. Or, I might have called the research desk at the library and let the staff do the work and given the effort involved in any of these steps, I probably wouldn't have done it. Or I would have been pushier and asked his name to begin with. But I still couldn't have gotten the biographical detail without the same kind of interruption to my schedule.

Journalists, of course, have always been in the research business. However, the Google experience (or whatever search engine you use) makes it possible for people to get information that they probably would have wanted to know, but not had the time to hunt down through traditional methods.

You can call this disintermediation, one of the hot phrases for the Internet. But I prefer the phrase democratization. It doesn't make people more inquisitive. It doesn't make them trained researchers. Still, it opens the research experience to more people, just as affordable airfare opened more of the world to more people.

Maybe it does make them more inquisitive. I like to think so. I like to think it causes people to ask for questions, and open them to more experiences, and make them think more.

Thinking does have its advantages.

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