Encyclopedia Issues..

Its been a while since I devoted my time and energies to this space. It has a lot to do with a little something called “bloggers block”. Add to that my innate laziness and there you have it- no posts for quite some time. I have been thinking of millions of things to write about but somehow all my chains of thought ended in roadblocks. My mind seemed unable to process anything. And today as I was bugging TS, asking him for some topics to write about or some inspiration, he said, try googling for topics. And then that tiny little lightbulb in my head glowed brightly and I had a topic!!

This is an era when people say Google is God and I have to admit rightly so. I am a victim of this Google syndrome, if you can call it that. It’s where people say “when in doubt, Google”. And that is something I live by. I google anything and everything. When I hear or read about something that I’m not familiar with. Like a new work, or an ingredient in a recipe which I have never heard of before or when I’m watching “Are you smarter than a 5th grader?” and have to find the answer to something or need to confirm if the answer I have in mind is the right one. I google when TS watches some movie and I need to know the story or when he is in raptures about some pathbreaking technology and my curiosity is piqued enough for me to google it.

I google voraciously before I am off on a holiday. I try to find out everything there is and more about the places we are visiting. I also read through Wikitravel and the normal Wikipedia page and find everything from the climate and population of the area to cuisine and tourist spots. I even find out what insects are there at certain places and what precautions you need to cake. Am terrified of creepy crawlies in case you didn’t guess by now but that’s fodder for another post. So, to sum it up, I’m a compulsive googler. And today when he mentioned googling for topics, it triggered a memory in my head of a little something called an encyclopedia. No, not the CD/DVD version of it but the original encyclopedia. Remember the Encyclopedia Britannica and World Book series that used to be the staple in our school libraries? The ones you ran to every time you had a project coming up or some research work to be done.

I had an encyclopedia set at home. No, not the huge 12- 13 volume ones, but a smaller 4-6 volume version published by Reader’s Digest. It was not the most perfect or most complete version but, it was good enough for some quick reference. Now. this Reader’s Digest version was available only to people who had subscribed to the magazine and the version I had at home was a real old one, published sometime in the late 50’s or early 60’s. Its something that my Dad’s dad had bought when my Dad was in school. And when I inherited it, it was still in mint condition. The gilt edges had faded a little, the pages were yellowing but other than that, everything was fine. That set was a constant companion through my school days. Every time I was in doubt about a topic, or stuck with an unfamiliar word, it was that set that I turned to and it always saved me. It was from that set I learnt about Greek and Roman civilizations and culture. It was that set that taught me all about words and their origins. It was that set that helped me out when I had projects to complete.

But once I was in high school. the set I had proved inadequate. And since we didn’t have a computer at home back then, I had to depend on the Encyclopedia Britannica and World Book series at school and the set that had once served me faithfully was forgotten. Then came the era of the computer and everything was available online. It was Ask Jeeves and dogpile and all first and then I got hooked to google and wiki. And to this day, that is where I turn to when I’m in doubt. But today, when TS mentioned googling, I thought of my old Man Friday. And truth be told, sometimes I miss those days. Today, everything is available at your fingertips. All it takes is a few seconds to input what you like. Back then you had to know how to look up stuff in an encyclopedia. Flip through pages or go to the index and find out. The whole process would take a few minutes but the joy when you found what you wanted was amazing. And I think I took pleasure in the entire process rather than just finding the required information. The same was the case with my dictionary.

Today, all that is lost. Even my little cousins and nephews who are barely 4-5 years old mention google when they want to find something. It has become so ubiquitous with searching that kids almost don’t know what a dictionary is or an encyclopedia is except maybe a couple of words that are really hard to spell. I can still recall flipping through the yellowed pages of that set of books, trying to find some answers, opening it and smelling in the old smell, my Grandfather;s handwriting in the front, the faded royal blue ink that he almost always used, I can imagine him sitting at his desk and scratching his name on the brand new book with his favourite pen. I wonder if my kids will ever experience things like these.


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