With the ability to get information anywhere in the world in seconds, and the virtually immediate obsolescence of any printed work, why are journals such an important part of academic research? Many of these journals take two or more years to print an article after it has been submitted, and the information is very difficult (or expensive) to obtain. Does this hinder technological advancement? There are certainly other venues for peer review, so why journals? What do they offer our society? Are they just a way to evaluate the productivity of professors?In our Internet world, the stuff we take in on news sites, blogs, podcasts, youtube, instant messages and social networks are all quite instantaneous. That's the great power of the Internet to get information out there to everyone right away. But does this flood of constantly changing information alter our perceptions, make us believe that anything written yesterday has no value and of the "virtually immediate obsolescence of any printed work?"
Academic research works differently. We don't (or shouldn't) focus on the here and now. A theorem I prove today will still be true 50 years from now and in fact was true 50 years ago. The same holds for other fields from our understanding of the universe to our interpretations of Chaucer. The importance of a particular result can vary in time as some specific questions seem important now and for various reasons, good or bad, not important tomorrow. But the theorems remain true forever.
If anything, especially in computer science, we get judged too much for our short term research and not as much for the stuff we do that stands the test of time.
So why journals? To do it right. To write up your work without the immediate need to announce your results or make a conference deadline. To have your work properly vetted, archived, and written in a way that future researchers can understand your work and build upon it.
These days we seem to live in a world where everything two days ago seems not to matter anymore and what we do today will be forgotten two days from now. But good science creates a tower of knowledge where today's blocks rest on what lies below and journal articles tell us how that tower was built so we can better build it higher.