Friday, March 16, 2012

992 The Sun Never Sets on the British Encyclopaedia

992 The Sun Never Sets on the British Encyclopaedia

Somebody call Susan Boyle.  We need to mark the end of an era that isn’t over until the fat lady sings.  Boyle isn’t exactly fat, but close.  The era of Encyclopaedia Britannica isn’t exactly over either, but close.  And since both Boyle and EB are the best the UK has to offer, it seems like a good idea.

Britannica is getting out of the printed book business and going internet-only.  What always seemed off key was the sleazy way they sold the book, which itself was the absolute standard of refinement and class.  Door-to-door commission-only sales representatives.  Screaming ads in lowlife magazines.  All that elegant scholarship, all that gorgeous printing and binding and all that carnival barker marketing.

The worst of Avon, Amway, Fuller Brush and the Electrolux man combined.  And it didn’t work.  They hardly sold any of those books.  And today, research isn’t done in books.  

Good News: Today, we have a completely democratic way of researching... anyone can find anything.   Bad news:  we have a completely democratic way of writing the material with little or no editorial supervision.  Do you trust Wikipedia?  The blogosphere?  

The Britannica is a dinosaur.  It belongs in a museum, along with the real dinosaurs.  But still, ending a print run of 244 years is hard to grasp.  And somehow, the website isn’t an adequate substitute for the same reason on-line dictionaries aren’t adequate substitutes for the printed version.

When you look up a word in the on-line dictionary or a subject in the on-line encyclopedia, you put something in a search box and poof! it appears.  When you use the printed version, you have to leaf through a lot of what we now might call extraneous stuff.  But the extraneous stuff was part of learning, too.  You’d stop at a word or at an item that caught your attention as you tried to locate what you were seeking.

Okay, so no one was buying the thing.  And, yeah, a book -- any book -- can become outdated even before it reaches the shelf.  So Britannica was a throwback to a slower and possibly less informed era.

We’ve seen this transition to the internet before:  US News & World Report doesn’t print.  Neither does the daily Christian Science Monitor.  Does that work for you?  Have you ever thought to go to those sites for anything?

Somebody, call Susan Boyle.

Shrapnel:

--Scientists are struggling to find a name for a newly discovered species of leopard frog apparently known to live only to New York City and its surrounding counties.  Our suggestion is “Great Kills,” because the frog was first seen on Staten Island, which gets no respect as a borough.  Or maybe “Meadowlands” because like the “New York” Giants, the frogs are there, too.

--Last week we sang the praises of American Idol contestant Jermaine Jones, and we stand by that endorsement, though he’s no longer on the show.  Seems the guy had trouble with the law which he didn’t report on his application to perform... so when the producers found out, they got rid of him.  That’s America’s loss, but probably a gain for the four counties in which there are warrants for his arrest because now they know where he is... and where he isn’t.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2012

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