March 15, 2012

Goodbye, Britannica!

May there always be book lovers...
When I read today - on an e-reader, no less, during my daily double fix of Kindle plus cappuccino - that the Encyclopedia Britannica is going out of print, I felt a twinge of sadness. Or rather more something like alarm.

I mean, if something that's been around for 244 years can just go up "poof" into thin air, isn't that a matter of grave concern? 2010 will be the last year the print version of Britannica in all its 32 volumes was released, meaning from here on out, all progress will only be recorded online. Because it's so much more efficient and user-friendly. There are so many reasons why it makes sense to keep this type of  information purely online, and not in print.

And yet. The internet seems so fleeting. So intangible. Nothing to hold on to, nothing to unearth centuries from now, if the internet somehow also went up into thin air. Which just a big gigantic power outage would accomplish, right? What would be left of us and our knowledge to those coming behind us? Will it be assumed that civilization stopped in 2010 and some sort of dark age was entered because no record will be available from that time onwards?

As a writer, this thought is deeply unsettling to me. I grew up with books, I love books, and I think books are one of man's greatest achievements.

And still I'm to blame, just as much as everyone else, for Britannica's demise. When is the last time I opened a dictionary, rather than just typing a search term into my computer? When was there ever a time I was actually willing to dish out a ton of money for something I could probably find out otherwise?

I'm a big believer in Wikipedia, but today's news prompted me to pay a visit to Encyclopedia Britannica's website. It's too late for the print version, but perhaps the company has a chance of survival if people are using their site. There is a ton of free information there, and of course you can trust it's very well researched. I was riveted by a long essay on the life of Albert Einstein, whose birthday is today and was celebrated at our kids' school in conjunction with Pi Day. It's actually a very cool site with topics such as "this day in history," a world atlas with country statistics, a bazillion biographies, and more. Even the $70 annual subscription fee doesn't sound like a bad deal if it's something the whole family can use. It would for sure get teachers off our back who forbid or at least discourage the use of Wikipedia.

Goodbye, Britannica, and farewell! You will be missed, if more in thought than in reality.

...and may there always be a stack of books waiting for us.

9 comments :

cat said...

I so feel the same way

Stephanie said...

My sentiments too. Will kids now ever really know how to alphabetize? I remember in second grade we had dictionary races. All of us had to sit with a dictionary and find the word the teacher called out. I have such a love hate relationship with it all right now -- but then hey, we'd never have this interaction, right?

Sine said...

yep, love hate sums it up. I wouldn't want to miss the internet, but do books have to die out for it to grow? Is it going to be either or, in the long run?

Blairadise said...

Such a shame! At least the hard copies will be worth a little bit more if you own some. I try my hardest to keep my daughter away from the iPad, but I have to admit The Monster at the End of this Book is way cooler than the one I grew up with.

Slow day at work, so I was surfing the net and stumbled across your awesome blog. I am from North Carolina living in Pretoria. Love relating to your stories!

Sine said...

Hi Blair - thanks, I'm glad you found me! I just went and checked out your blog, and love it. Where in NC? We're from Raleigh! And lived in Chapel Hill for 2 years. My son just made me fill out the basketball brackets...

Blairadise said...

Hi! I am from Charlotte. Ahh March Madness. Who do you guys pull for? UNC? I have stopped following it these past few years.

Sine said...

sorry Blair, just found my way back to this after an exotic mystery trip and then reality calling again with internet down for a week. Anyway, we pull for UNC and are not the happiest at the moment. We most recently lived in Kansas and so it's particularly hard to lose to them once again, of all teams. We're from Raleigh, but lived in Chapel Hill while going to grad school.

W. A. Jeffrey said...

I was sorry to see it go at the time but I guess it is just the march of progress. Growing up I wanted my own set so bad but could never afford it. Then by the time I could readily do so, Wikipedia and all the other web resources were around and it just didn't seem like much point in spending the money. I would still like to have the complete OED, though. I was going to buy a set a few years back but didn't have the dedicated shelf space to display it. I have too many books as it is. I have several thousand books packed tightly in 78 file boxes but I still buy a few books now and again. I could save a lot of space if I could just get myself to embrace ebooks but even though I have a kindle and a nook both, I never use them much. Paying for a file seems like such a waste and I don't feel like I am reading a book unless I have a real one in my hand.

By the way, I got a copy of the Oxford South African English dictionary on sale at amazon for 12.50. Couple days later the price was back up to $45 so I guess I got my timing right.

Sine said...

Good deal! I agree with you on real books vs ebooks. One can never replace the other. I settled down with a real book today after a long time of not really taking time to read, and it felt so nice. I somehow never remember the ebooks I read as well as the real books. Something about holding it and seeing the cover as you walk by several times a day, or right before opening it up.