The Internet has changed the way I work in many ways. So, as I began to collect my thoughts, I realised I have more than one example to present my case.
In the laboratory
In a typical molecular biology lab where I work, routine experiments involve cloning, sequencing; homology search with other reported sequences, characterization of DNA sequences etc. Excellent DNA / RNA kits, improved enzymes, buffers have ensured good results. However, till about 1997-8, the homology search was the bottleneck with poor broadband connections and expensive high-speed internet access, expensive software products for sequence alignment analyses and phylogenetic relationships, students found the task, time consuming.
The scene totally changed, literally overnight, with a revolution in internet access through affordable broadband connections and access to worldwide nucleotide databases like NCBI has made life easy and quick for all kind of homology searches, alignments in what is referred to as Computational Biology. Free, downloadable software tools are available to do most of our work. Today, with current internet databases’ access, sequence information can been categorized and annotated in record time, maybe what took me 5 months is now being be done in 1 week. A cursory look at the pace of genomics today shows a significant growth since 2002, which correlates, to the single biggest contributor in that period – the Internet.
I entered the www world with my personal e mail ID in 1997. Till then, internet for me was moreorless a mystery, rather puzzling on how it worked!! (I am probably still in the dark on many aspects of the netJ). To give you an example, getting a reference paper was a long wait (>2 months), unless your institute subscribed to all the journals under the sky. But with internet and e mail access, I could contact authors directly and get a reply in <24 hours. I also could plan my design of experiments due to constant interaction with experts across the world via internet and access to current trends and advances.
And at a personal level, internet helped me immensely with my thesis. Let me explain. My family shifted base from the city where I was doing my doctoral programme and so I stayed back till I finished all the lab work. I could then go home and write and communicate with my guide over e mail and get my drafts corrected, this would have been impossible without internet.
Prior to 1997, we had access to e mails through group Ids. Our Department was given an ID and we could send and receive mails. It was fair enough except the lack in privacy. I realised there can be downsides to emails when I received an anonymous mail, almost intimidating me on one of the political viewpoints I had shared with some of my colleagues within the lab. I realised, I needed to be more tactful in my expression of political ideologies.
Lastly, the numerous friends I have made over the past 10 years have enriched my life and learnings. Internet has made my understanding of the often used cliche, “It’s a small world”, at a truly experiential level. And yes, perhaps, it has also made a lot of us lazy as life is some much more cushy now, thanks to internet