März 14, 2012
I was always that kid.
The one that had just one more question after everybody else was ready to move on.
The one who wanted to know all about how and why and where and anyway, does it bounce when you drop it? (still, I find, one of the most important pieces of information to have about anything ^^)
It didn’t matter what the topic was, if I didn’t know it, then I had to find out right away, and adults who couldn’t answer my questions were an annoying obstacle in my quest. (They were adults…knowing stuff was what they were there for, after all.)
But everything changed once I had figured out how to read. Because that was when something momentuous happened – my parents took their encyclopedia (12 volumes, blue, with golden font – just beautiful) and moved it to a shelf that was low enough for me to reach.
That was probably the single most empowering thing anyone has ever done for me. To actually put everything there was to know right there, at my fingertips, whenever I wanted it.
There was so much of it, there wasn’t the slightest chance I’d ever get bored. But at the same time there wasn’t so much I’d be intimidated – I could hold the whole lot in my arms, after all. (Well…for a couple of seconds. Almost.)
Now, intellectually, I know that I have even more knowledge at my fingertips right now, and with my smartphone I can not only hold it in my hand, but even carry it with me.
But at the same time, the internet is vast and endless and what gatekeepers there are are highly specialised or unreliable. Gaining knowledge there requires a kind of advanced rational literacy that I wouldn’t even have dreamed of when I was five.
The encyclopedia was dependable, reliable, and safe in the sense that I didn’t necessarily need an adult to read it with me to make sure I couldn’t stray into the weird world of porn. (Anyone who claims that using the internet effectively isn’t a skill that has to be learned is a liar who forgot their first embarassing misadventures on purpose.)
I owe that encyclopedia a lot, and I still miss it, sometimes, both for what it is and what it embodies.
And that’s why I think it’s so very sad that the Encyclopaedia Britannica is stopping the presses. Because the internet won’t fit on any bottom shelf, and the internet won’t ever belong to a little girl all to herself. And because I recently looked into my great-grandparents‘ encyclopedia, which is a little over 100 years old. What’s in there is just as informative as what isn’t. (Seriously… Mind. Blown.)
Losing that is a sad thing indeed.