Encyclopedias vs. Google

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By Ginger Truitt

A single frame comic reads, “Life Before Google: a short story.” Two characters are sitting on the couch, eating popcorn. One states, “I just thought of something I’d like to know more about.” The other responds, “That’s a darn shame.”

The more I thought about it, the funnier it became. There was a time when you couldn’t just pick up your phone and immediately access information through Google. If you used your phone to gain knowledge, it was through calling someone. Sort of a “phone a friend” feature. You had to really think about where to find the information you were seeking.

As a young teen, I would occasionally call deejays and ask them who a particular artist was or what was the name of the song that was currently playing. Nowadays, through Google, I can have the information in 10 seconds.

Before smartphones, I insisted that the most valuable thing in our home was the World Book Encyclopedia set. I believed it was faster to look up something in the encyclopedia than it was to search for it online. Hubby and I used to have contests. The kids would ask a question and then he ran to the computer while I dashed to the bookshelf. Because he had to wait for the computer to boot up, and because at that time our internet was dial up, I always won. I was confident in my assessment that encyclopedias would always be an integral asset to the intelligent household.

But then it came time to update to a more current set. By then, we had satellite internet and laptops that were always up and running. I considered the cost of the encyclopedias, and evaluated how often we actually referred to them, and realized I might as well use that expansive amount of shelf space for something else.

Now, that we have smartphones, I am constantly aware of how quickly we can access information and learn new things.

My mom, who died before the advent of the internet, was an elementary school teacher. Before she took a full-time teaching position, she was often acting as a substitute in various local schools. She called one night to ask if I knew where a particular school was located. “No,” I replied, “but if you look in the center of the phone book there is a town map, so you should be able to find the street.”

She responded with one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received, “Intelligent people don’t know everything, but they always know where to find the information they need.”

Nowadays, unless you are just bad at Googling, everyone can have the appearance of intelligence. If you don’t know where to find something, you’re just plain dumb.

Due to the technology phenomenon, there are a number of phrases that you rarely, if ever, hear anymore:

“I’ve always wondered…”

“I’ll look that up next time I’m at the library.”

“I’ll call the deejay and ask.”

“Your grandfather was alive during that time, perhaps he would remember.”

“Check the encyclopedia.”

“Would that be under A for Astronomy or C for Constellation?”

I might have been proven wrong on the need for an encyclopedia set, but I’m staunchly holding onto my massive Webster’s Dictionary. No matter what anyone tries to tell me, Dictionary.com just can’t compare.

Ginger is an author, speaker, and mother of five. Follow her on Twitter (@GingerTruitt), find her on the web at www.gingertruitt.com, or contact ginger@gingertruitt.com.