Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Britannica no longer rules

It's been a good 244 years, but the Encyclopedia Britannica is ceasing publication, though it will still continue in its on-line form.

I'm amazed that it lasted this long.  When I was a boy, Britannica was as close as I could come to the Internet; an always accessible source of information on almost any subject.  I always liked the fact that the editors strove to get the best experts in the field to write the articles and up until they reformatted it into the ill-conceived micropedia and macropedia sets they were happy to include articles that were so in-depth that you could get a decent education on a subject at one sitting.  Unfortunately, the sets cost as much as a small car, were as portable as a hod of bricks and went out of date while you were making a sandwich, so digital sources pretty much doomed it.

Ironically, though my old set long went to that great book shop in the sky (okay, Oxford Covered Market), I still dip into Britannica regularly.  But that's the 1911 edition.  That I read on line.


eon said...

I still have my 1969 edition. Plus my 1928 Collier's, 1953 Collier's, 1937 Compton's, and even a 1956 American Educator set. (The latter was intended for the then still-extant "one-room" schoolhouses.)

Any or all of the above are probably more useful than most more recent encyclopedias. They were always more useful than Americana, which was barely above the comic book level.

The major problems with modern online encyclopedias is best illustrated by Wikipedia (which I have contributed to, BTW). Those being that (a) the database can be hacked, resulting in spurious information being inserted at some smart-aleck's whim (No, on the original "Hawaii-Five O", McGarrett did not habitually tell Williams "My heart's an open book" at the end of each episode- seriously, that was in the entry on James MacArthur), and (b) data can be and often is changed to reflect "political sensibilities"- usually on the "progressive" side.

My mother used to say that "A piece of paper will lay still and let you put anything on it", along with "don't believe everything you read, only half of what you see, and nothing that's just hearsay". Today, the fact that something that was put on paper half-a-century or more ago may be more factually reliable than the latest hot-off-the-ISP information, is one of the more depressing facts of our post-modern world.



Ironmistress said...

The sextant will tell you where you are on a radius of one nautical mile.

The GPS will tell you where you are on a radius of one metre.

Just a pour a litre of seawater upon both and see which still works.

[Been there and experienced that.]

Sergej said...

I don't know. I'd think that a sextant will corrode. Or at least get salt smudges on the optics. Whereas a GPS can be made waterproof...