Another Victim of the Digital Age

I’m ashamed of it now, but when I was in fifth grade I was a proud child, proud of how rich I thought  my family was. No, we weren’t as rich as the families up on “The Hill,” but we had something that the other families in our little beach neighborhood didn’t have, so  it felt like we were rich.  We had a spanking new set of the World Book Encyclopedia. I had completely forgotten about it until I read yesterday that the Encyclopaedia Britannica was closing the book on printing any more volumes, and new editions will only be online.

Before we had our own set of the reference books, we had to use the ones at the library to do our reports. The three encyclopedias that the library had were World BookFunk and Wagnalls, and the Encyclopaedia Britannica.. I don’t remember anything about Funk and Wagnalls, but I do remember that I didn’t like Britannica because the print seemed too small, the layout was confusing, and the words were too hard to understand. The World Book was like the Disney version. When the salesman came to our door selling those coveted volumes and my parents decided to get our own set, I was beside myself. After the books were ordered, I came home from school every day and asked if they had arrived. At last the boxes came and my brother and I sat for hours perusing the beautiful pages with the gold edges, for my parents had ordered the deluxe version. The pictures were amazing, especially the one of the human body with its colored overlays showing all the muscles and skeletal system.

Every year a new volume came with updates on news and discoveries that had occurred since our set had been published. As I got older, I began to realize the limitations of my beloved books, for it was impossible for them to keep up with the fast pace of new developments. The world was changing too quickly. Of course Al Gore hadn’t invented the Internet yet, and we didn’t have home computers, so to do our reports in high school and college we had to research journals which were printed monthly. But they could never duplicate the excitement of those beautiful blue volumes that arrived at our door.

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About Coming East

I am a writer, wife, mother, and grandmother who thinks you're never too old until you're dead. My inspiration is Grandma Moses who became a successful artist in her late 70's. If I don't do something pretty soon, though, I'll have to find someone older for inspiration.
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47 Responses to Another Victim of the Digital Age

  1. ian darling says:

    Just found this fascinating thread about printed encyclopedias. The set I remember from childhood was the famous Arthur Mee encyclopedia; so basically a product of inter war British outlook on the world. I remember that the books seemed to be inexhaustibly interesting and my favourite feature were maps that had historical incidents illustrated across them, for example Italy with a little drawing of Julius Caesar on a horse crossing the Rubicon! Also had poems and stories from mythology and while being soaked in the assumptions of its time I suppose would have been good for any child’s cultural literacy!

    Recently picked up an old 1983 set of Funk/Wagnalls and these brought back the old Encyclopedia thrill and were some surprisingly good articles in it – the Holocaust article by Raul Hilberg and an article on Socialism by the then leader of the American Socialist Party for example. Also some really cool Hammonds maps of each US state. Really enjoyed the thread.

    • Coming East says:

      Thanks, Ian. That Arthur Mee encyclopedia sounds fascinating. Kids today don’t know what they are missing by not having a set right at their house. I’m sure they feel sad for us that we didn’t have computers and had to read everything from dumb old books!

  2. Eileen Riley says:

    I edit, which is almost writing. And I am just finishing a book, entitled “From the White House to the Dog House”. This time last week I would have said that I had finished a book, but got back from a fabulous weekend skiing with my daughter to discover that the editor/agent wants a “little bit more on…” and that “it shouldn’t take too long”. Hah, easy for him to say.

    If it weren’t for all the aches and pains, I would be finding it hard to believe that I had ever left my desk. Never have sore muscles felt so good.

  3. oldereyes says:

    We weren’t rich either, but I remember how proud my Dad was the day he bought the Encyclopedia Britannica. He loved books and although he never finished high school, he was one of the most self-educated men I’ve known. I understand why publishers would stop printing versions but it still seems sad. It’s a piece of our past, gone, like vinyl recors and eight track tapes, but better. And more important.

    • Coming East says:

      I wonder, Bud, what our children and grandchildren will tell their children about that they miss when it is no longer in the world because technology has displaced it?

  4. Robin says:

    I loved World Book Encyclopedias, and used to sit for hours browsing, reading, and sometimes just admiring the images. My husband and I purchased a set of Encyclopedia Britannica, and ended up reselling it fairly quickly for all of the reasons you mentioned. Our sons preferred World Book, too.

    It seems a shame that so much is going digital. I suppose I’m old fashioned, but I like the tactile aspects of a book over what I see on the screen.

    • Coming East says:

      I think we love the tactile, Robin, because we have so much history with it. With the sharpness of HD technology now, I’m sure today’s kids would say to us that computer images are crisper, brighter, and more life-like.

  5. Leah says:

    I read that too. It’s sad, but I guess a sign of the new digital age. I used to love looking through the books and pictures too.

  6. Pingback: Childhood Memories on a Bookshelf « Technicolor Day Dreams

  7. notquiteold says:

    Our books were red, and my parents kept them in a bookcase that had glass doors. Precious, like museum pieces.

  8. Dor says:

    Believe it or not, I was just getting set to write something about my set of Compton’s Enchclopedia! I still have it. The letters are worn off the binding, it contains nothing about space travel, and even the geographic boundaries and names of countries are vastly different today. Even so, it is comforting to have the original set I used to use for homework, right here in my bookcase.

  9. pattisj says:

    I think we had the World Book set, too. So much to learn in there!

    • Coming East says:

      I liked the layout of the World Book so much better than the Britannica. The Britannica seemed stuffy in comparison. I think it was written for an older audience. World book was geared more to families.

  10. If my memory serves me correctly, there were also overlays of the muscular and skeletal systems of a frog. (An early hint that I would love biology.) And I’ll always remember the way those gold edges (of the pages) sometimes stuck together.

    For me, the internet will always be missing the smell of a new book and the feel of its pages.

    What a fun trip down memory lane! Great post!

    • Coming East says:

      I don’t remember the frog pages, LDC, but I’m sure it was fascinating like the human body pics. I’d forgotten about the gold edges sticking together. I’ll never forget the smell, though.

  11. I constantly marvel at how much and how fast technology changed our lives, one day at school we were browsing encyclopaedias the next Encarta and then suddenly the next the Internet. Crazy. You capture so perfectly the smell and feel and prestige of beautiful books, I guess those technological advances have never been able to offer us that. 🙂

    • Coming East says:

      Thanks, Eye. There is no substitute for the tangible feel of a beautiful book. I recently read my granddaughter’s copy of Hugo. It is a gorgeous book, and I can’t imagine only seeing it as an ebook.

  12. judithhb says:

    We had a complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica that I know my parents bought on ‘the never-never’. How else could they afford to buy them. I understand that my sister has them now. This was one of the things i blogged about several months ago – http://growingyoungereachday.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/are-things-better-today/

  13. E.C. says:

    Our set of World Book Encyclopedias was one the greatest gifts of my childhood. I set for hours just reading page after page of the wondrous and sometimes scary entries. The yearly updates were so fun too. I miss those days. I love books and no matter how much info I have access too here on the internet… like you, I feel I was most richest during the years of holding the large tomes and flipping carefully through the pages to find the jewels of knowledge always available even if the electric goes off. 😉
    When I read that about Britannica stopping it’s physical book production, I thought it was sad and nostalgic to see a one of great contributing forms of knowledge cease to be.

  14. We were far from rich, but education and good shoes took top priority. We had the World Book Encyclopedia. I could learn anything from how to papier mache to how the Egyptians wrote hieroglyphs. Some of those books were worn ragged from all the looking (D for Dog). Oh and the overlays of the human body…. What newly minted science geek wouldn’t fall in love. http://wp.me/pNmEF-k2

  15. Margie says:

    I agree, the internet has become our newest source of information, which is why I believe that we bloggers have an obligation to do the research when we present factual information. I also think we should make our blogs a beautiful experience – I wonder how we add gold edges to our pages!?

  16. Huffygirl says:

    Oh, you were one of the rich kids Susan? 🙂 The ones I was always jealous of because they had things like encyclopedias, roller skates and three-speed bikes. I had to get my encyclopedia fix at the library.

  17. I remember the smell of the set when it arrived. To me it was the scent of unlimited knowledge. My favorites were the human body with the overlays and, once we were committed to space travel – the sun, the moon, the planets and the stars were the source of my dreams (and I don’t have a scientific gene anywhere in my body)!

    • Coming East says:

      I’d forgotten about how beautiful the picturesmofmthe solar system were, Carol. I don’t think I’ve been that excite about any other set of books. Kids these days don’t know what they missed.

  18. Ours were blue too. I loved spending idle time looking up all the presidents and the first ladies! And, I loved looking up each state and its capital. The World Book Annual updates came in white, didn’t match our set, but they too were fascinating. My mother passed them on to us and only just last year I donated them away. They’re gone…they were hard to part with…but just had to downsize.

    • Coming East says:

      I don’t know what happened to the ones we had when we were growing up, Georgette, but we bought a new set for our own children, and I remember they loved them, too. I’d forgotten about the pages with the presidents. I loved those, too.

  19. Eileen Riley says:

    I felt exactly the same way. I especially loved them when I discovered that my father kept money in the World War II entry. I have no idea why.

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