Friday, 16 March 2012

Britannica Sadness v Bite Sized Thinking

After 244 years of publishing facts about the world, Encyclopedia Britannica is finally stopping print versions.  Imagine the events they have chronicled? From the Enlightenment to the Crimean war, the Britannica boys were there at the cutting edge.

Encyclopedia Britannica  defined my childhood. It was how we found stuff out in the olden days. We had big dusty versions at school with intriguing arbitary pairings on the spines to show what was covered therein - kiss to Mountbatten? Britannica was considered so vital to a child's development that we nearly got a set at home. In the end, I think Dad was put off by the salesman refusing to tell him the price until he had completed his little talk, especially when we all knew that the full deluxe leather bound set would cost more than a new car! So thanks to the pushy salesman, I got through my schooling and exams in the library with the tomes out around me on the desk!

In this wiki instant age it is a surprise it's taken them this long to transition to a stand alone online service. I wonder if it will pay, when so much is already available for free, and students have already established  research routes with other providers?

This Britannica change is a microcosm of the big transition we are all in. I feel a hint of sadness for a disappearing era which connected me to scholars of the enlightenment age, who studied in the same way as we did......slowly! Now that tenuous connection breaks for ever. But I wonder if out instant research lacks depth, is shallower, fails to penetrate our minds in the same way as facts which are mined slowly from heavy books. It may be quicker to find stuff, but do we get to go through the thinking process like we used to? Do we wrestle whilst we search, are we going to breed a superficial generation who give up if a google search requires more than one page of reading?

I'm sad too that I will no longer be able to just flip open an encyclopedia and see where it falls. Oh the discoveries I've made in this way, the joy of reading about things I would never intentionally look up! Even the distractions are a wonderful diversion. I delved in to look up Lent and spent an hour reading about Lenin instead! I am to blame - we all are. We are all eager consumers of bite sized chucks of wiki. Now we will have to live forever on this meagre diet.

1 comment:

  1. Britannica's online USP is that all articles will continue to be checked/edited before publication - a recent poll suggested Wikipedia was the first port of call for people seeking medical advice - Wikipedia, compiled by who knows who? In an era of 'relative' truth maybe it isn't so surprising that we are so negligent (or lazy?) about checking the integrity of sources, be it tabloid kiss-n-tells, office gossip, neo-darwinism or apendicitis!

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