Hey Marcia, no, you're not fooling yourself.
I hear you on all counts. Yes, we did research like that "in the olden days." I recall the piles of books--some of which just weren't what they promised. I, too, set them aside after a once over.
That kind of browsing, which still involved picking up a volume, opening it, scanning contents, is in fact light years from the kind of browsing we do on the Net now.
It may feel similar, but--
1. it is faster; our brains don't have the orientation time it takes us to put one book down and pick up another when we jump to hyperlinks
2. it is generated by google or some other being "facilitating" our search for specific data
3. our interruptions were pre-planned appointments or a real person with skin on leaning over our library table
Those are all significant. Why?
"On line we follow scripts written by others--efficient and tidy
but we lose personal initiative, creativity, and whimsy." (Carr)
It does give us amazing short cuts to finding facts. It is definitely not as messy or complicated as several hours in the library. We become far more efficient doing cognitive tasks. And that efficiency makes me feel good about myself.
This very efficiency is part of the irony of Google. It aims to make reading efficient and in the process prevents us from being deep readers, with attention, able to interpret what we read. I see us "strip mining for content" as opposed to "excavating for meaning." We focus on the cognitive tasks as opposed to the deeper mysteries that require contemplation.
Truthfully, there are times the research isn't that deep. But we are in danger of a habitual attitude toward answering our questions. "Google it."
We get more information in less time. And we have less time to use that information or think about and evaluate it because there is so much more information.
I'm not anti-google. I do it random times a day. It's a great time saver and it can lead me off into rabbit trails to waste time. Nicholas Carr advises us that as a species we do not have control over either the "path or pace" of technology. This is not a battle to take on.
Technology is moving along with a momentum we cannot imagine.
However, each one of us as an individual can make a reasonable decision what and how to use and how to let it influence his/her life. I became aware that I was not even realizing what was happening. I was delighting in the speed and quantity of what I "accomplished" and forgot to prioritize. I had less integrity as a human being than when I opened books and copied words (by hand!) on 3x5 cards.
I doubt that anyone has ever accused you of lacking integrity, dear friend. But I will let you have the last word on this subject. My mind is wandering and I'm seriously considering those blue highlights for my hair.