Friday, March 16, 2012

Rule, Digital Britannia!

You more than likely have seen one of the many stories in print, on the air, and online over the past few days, reporting the decision to stop printing the venerable Encyclopedia Britannica in hard copy ...

and transition to an all-digital format.

Our family was one of the many that owned a copy of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Our parents bought it while I was in high school to replace our older, already well-outdated World Book Encyclopedia ... now also available online. It came in about 20 volumes, weighed a ton, and came with a nice, polished wood two-shelf bookcase on which to display the majestic tomes that just oozed gravitas as they awaited each request to share the accumulated knowledge of the centuries. It also came with a number of research request credits, which allowed us to submit questions to the "EB" staff, and receive detailed, annotated reports in reply ... a real godsend for struggling students in the days before Google, Wikipedia, and other online plagiarism research tools.

The Encyclopedia Britannica was more than just the ultimate pre-Internet research tool ... it was a symbol that the family which owned it was one that valued knowledge and education, as my family surely did. It sat proudly in its polished wood bookcase in the hallway, ready to be consulted each time we walked from living room to bedroom ... or bathroom (I come from a long and distinguished line of bathroom readers).

Many are lamenting the decision of the EB publishers to go all-digital, but I think it was the right move. Given the pace at which new knowledge is accumulating nowadays (except, of course, in the Know-Nothing Republican party), a hard-copy encyclopedia is out of date almost as soon as it rolls off the press. It makes sense to publish such a reference digitally, allowing for easy and frequent updates. It also saves space in those narrow hallways and weight during relocations. On the minus side, of course, it deprives us of the joy of paging randomly through the nearly-endless pages of small print and illustrations, stopping whenever something interesting catches our eye.

Oh, well...

As you well know, Dear Readers, I'm a traditionalist when it comes to books. For all their weight and bulk, I love hard-copy books that rest comfortably in my hand. I have an iPad with several digital reading programs on it, which is handy for commuting and travel, but it will never replace the sheer joy of a real, ink-on-paper book.

Except for the exceptions like encyclopedias.

So, farewell to the traditional Encyclopedia Britannica, and hello to its digital grandchild. I'm sure we'll get along just fine. At least, until the power goes out.

Have a good day, whether hard-copy or digitally, and be here tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday.

More thoughts then.


P.S. - if you visit the Encyclopedia Britannica website, you will notice the tag line on the header: "Facts Matter." This is, obviously, not applicable during the presidential campaign season. Or, in Disneyland-on-the-Potomac, at pretty much any other time.



eViL pOp TaRt said...

The EB looked so elegant in its binding on the shelf. I hope the e-version also has an elegant, aesthetic home page. I agree that this move is necessary; a book, once in print, is static.

The Bastard King of England said...

The Republicans would better be described as the Don't Want to Know Nothing Party. I know that's ungrammatical, but thsat's the point.

Mike said...

Until the power goes out is the elephant in the room for a modern society.

Duckbutt said...

I'm amazed at how totally disaccomodating things can be when the computer goes out.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

I guess we can't look it up in our Funk and Wagnell's either :(

Banana Oil said...

The Britainnica is written so elegantly, it's a pleasure to read.