Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Sad Day for Learning

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I feel as though the best friend of my youth has died.

Today I learned that Encyclopedia Britannica is ending its print edition.  That's right, those magnificent sets of books that many parent's bought on credit in the years following World War II so that their children would not fall behind academically will soon be nothing more than an historical curiosity.

And that is sad.

Oh, we all knew it was coming, what with the invention of the Internets, search engines like The Google, and on-line reference tools like Wikipedia - but today's announcement makes it seem like the lingering relative has finally passed.  And it is so sad.

Yes, Wikipedia is much more up-to-the minute and undoubtedly has many more topics.  (I venture to guess that Encyclopedia Britannica has probably never printed a word on the frothy sex mixture now known by millions as "santorum.")    But the topics that the encyclopedia did cover were often explained by experts in the field, whereas Wikipedia entries are written and "corrected" by damned near everybody.

(Interestingly though, I read some research today on the Internets that had experts in various fields compare Wikipedia entries on topics with those of Encyclopedia Britannica,  and the  printed encyclopedias proved more accurate, but not by much.)

Encyclopedia Britannica will continue with an on-line presence, but it won't be the same.  The magic of encyclopedias for me was always the accidental learning that happened as I thumbed through a volume looking for a particular topic - but was continually drawn to other interesting things that I came across while searching for my subject.  It was like visiting a candy store  - with so many sweet things to sample.  Often I would spend the entire hour of "study hall" just browsing through a volume or two of my school's encyclopedias.  Looking something up in an on-line encyclopedia will take the learner straight to what they are looking for - and cheat that person out of all of that accidental learning.

I miss the trappings of my youth - radio dramas, cars with fins, slide rules, company stopping by the house just to visit, music with pleasant melodies and words that made sense - and now I guess I'll miss encyclopedias, too.  The world is just moving too damned fast!

1 comment:

Don said...

I miss those same kind of things:Lampshades with fringes on the bottom; watches you had to wind, World Series games coming from transistor radios hidden in so many pockets the game echoed throughout the room;sandboxes;ballgames played on sandlots with scuffed up balls and nothing to buy; trick or treating without fear; fireflies; and the comfort of small towns that wrapped you in a cocoon of safety and affection.