Back when I used to work at the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, our office used to look something like this:
Well not really. But not far from that.
Because of its mission to ‘examine ethical issues raised by new developments in biology and medicine’, the Council is constantly scanning the latest developments in all sorts of areas, from nanotechnology to GM crops, personalised medicine and stem cells. As such, it subscribes to a huge amount of scientific journals, magazines and newspapers.
Back in the day, one of my duties was helping to keep track of all this. The Deputy Directors, Research Officers and Press Officer would scan through every publication and mark on a little sheet what was worth keeping on file for future reference. Then I would disappear into the photocopying room for hours on end, making copies of each article and filing them in hundreds of paper files hanging all over our office. It was boring, tedious and absolute madness.
Such a thing would be unthinkable today, just five years later. Why would you make copies when practically all articles are available to view anytime online? And why have hundreds of files when you can use web bookmarking tools like Delicious to tag the link to an article, with as many tags as you like, all searchable and sortable in seconds?
Today I bookmark and tag practically every interesting thing I read, which helps no end when I find I need to revisit a topic for research (though admittedly my tags need a bit of pruning). I’m thankful to my old job for this useful habit, but thank goodness I don’t have to sit around in the photocopying room by myself anymore.