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Today is February 23, 2020

Grin 'n' Bare It

Do you remember using encyclopedias?

By Kay Grafe

Kay Grafe
Kay Grafe

Information and communication technology is one of our fastest-growing industries today. Use of the computer enables us to have huge volumes of information available at unbelievable speeds. When I have a question or need information, I rush to my computer, iPad or smartphone and ask Google for help.

We have become so accustomed to this practice that we tend to take the information expansion for granted. A few days ago, I sat at my computer pondering what to discuss with my readers during our next monthly visit and I began thinking about when I was a young schoolgirl and how I searched for information then. Many times, I had to write a paper about some famous person, event or place and there was only one reliable source for information, encyclopedias. My parents could not afford a set of those wonderful books, so I had to use the ones at school or visit the home of a friend who owned the books.

My favorite encyclopedia was the Britannica. Mr. Roy’s parents owned World Books, probably because they were cheaper. But if you were really privileged, there was a 26-volume set of Britannica encyclopedias proudly displayed in your home.

Mr. Roy and I married in 1956 and after two years of military service and two more years working and saving, we purchased our first house. We also had two little girls and a little extra spending money. Mr. Roy said, “One thing I have always wanted is a set of Britannica encyclopedias. And now that we have two children, I intend to get a set. We can pay a small amount each month.” A few months later, Mr. Roy was home from work and an encyclopedia salesman knocked on our door. When Mr. Roy opened the door, the salesman started his sales pitch. Mr. Roy said, “I don’t need to hear all of that, I’ll buy a set.” The salesman was so shocked that he did not know what to say so he kept on with his sales pitch, and Mr. Roy kept telling him he didn’t need to hear that. Finally, they both calmed down and consummated the sale.

A few days ago, I decided to search for that set of books we purchased in 1964 for more than $400. In terms of today’s monetary value, that would be equivalent to around $2,000. I found all 26 books stacked on a shelf in a storage room. I removed several volumes, took them upstairs and thumbed through them. The books brought back good memories of happy and peaceful times. After I finished with the books, I went to my computer and found the website for Britannica encyclopedias. It’s sad, but not surprising, that you can no longer purchase printed copies. After 244 years, the company was forced to yield to technology and it now offers an online service, with a monthly fee, that provides reliable information you may not be able to get from other sources.

Sometimes I think the world is passing me by, and I long for the peaceful days when we did not insist on getting things done in microseconds and obtaining gigabytes of information. But then Mr. Roy will purchase some new gadget that will turn our house lights on or off when we are thousands of miles from home, and I think, “Well, all of this new technology is pretty exciting after all. I wonder what it will be like in another 10 years.”

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