Encyclopaedic information (HLD 132)

1 Aug 2020

A while ago, while visiting my mother-in-law, we got into discussions about things she has to dust on her bookshelves.

Sure – ornaments, wine glasses, and other stuff don’t get used consistently enough to avoid the dust accumulation. But other things in her bookcases that hadn’t been used for ages were her two sets of encyclopaedias.

Two sets. Count ‘em. Two.

She has a children’s encyclopaedia set, and the grown up version. And a bunch of year books too. Two complete shelves of the bookcase filled with the finest complete set of knowledge the 1970’s could deliver.

It recently made its way into a conversation – can you still buy encyclopaedias? And if so, why would you?

Back when I was young – yes yes, sooooo long ago, the old encyclopaedia set was a valuable research tool for school assignments, argument solving, and general “looking for something interesting to read so I look busy in case Mum wants me to do something”. We also had the double set, which faithfully got dragged around each time we moved house. When Mum and Dad retired to Busselton, off into retirement with them went the around 70kg of knowledge.

Somewhere, somehow, the children’s britannica set went bye-bye. But the main set remained. No matter how often Mum and Dad offered them to us kids, we always graciously declined their generous offer.

It eventually got to the stage when, for Christmas one year, we each got two volumes of encyclopaedias for Christmas. Fairly sure Mum and Dad thought “problem solved”. The tragic mistake they made was that there were still birthdays, Christmases, and wedding anniversaries in their futures, when a wonderful gift of a volume of Encyclopaedia could be, and was, gifted.

A gift that keeps on giving. Whether it’s regifting, using as a doorstop, or a firelighter – those encyclopaedias proved to be seemingly indestructible.

Kids today – heck anyone under the age of 70*- know exactly how to find out information. I’m holding it at the moment. You don’t need to go to the encyclopaedia shelf in the lounge room. You don’t need to go to the library. You don’t even need to leave your seat. You actually nowadays don’t even need to pick up your phone to find out something. You can just ask your phone “what is the biggest animal in the world?”. (And, by the way, you can also ask it to show you a list of random general knowledge questions)…

Before the professionals get involved and start a lecture about the difference between information and knowledge, and about the accuracy of information gleaned from the internet, let’s just assume that we all agree that this is an area where a lot more research is needed.

Maybe I could google it for you.

*Sincere apologies to those above the age of 70 who can and do use google to help remember stuff 🙂

Oh. And blue whale. I’m sure you all knew that without googling.

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