“Sometimes my mom uses it as a coaster,” says high school senior Andy Ng of Daly City, Calif. In the age of the Internet, encyclopedias are gathering dust, and most families with young children don’t even consider buying the space-hogging printed sets anymore. Even digital versions struggle for attention.
I have fond memories of our set of late-seventies World Book encyclopedias. I liked everything about them–their rich chocolate finish, the gold leaf on the top of the pages, how the final volume, W-X-Y-Z, seemed to hold so much more promise than all of the others.
In my youth, I’d take a couple of volumes along on long car trips to read. Even at a young age, I was torturing my family with facts. I remember how my brother and I once fought over one book (he no doubt wanted it simply because I was enjoying it), and we ripped the first page of the K volume. Didn’t tear it out, mind you, just ripped it. Ever since, I’d feel a little pang of guilt when I was looking up Kilimanjaro or Alexander Kluge.
I do own Encarta, which the article references. I’m not keen on depending upon Microsoft for factual information. For example, you can just smell the bitterness in this excerpt from the entry on Apple:
In August 1997 Apple reversed its traditional opposition to Microsoft and announced a business alliance with its longtime rival, a move seen by some commentators as an attempt by Microsoft to counter allegations of monopolistic practices in the computer industry. This new collaboration did not prevent Apple from giving hostile evidence in November 1998 in the US Department of Justice’s prosecution of Microsoft on monopoly charges.
I have Encarta because a friend works at Microsoft, and got it for me for, like, six bucks. I use it occasionally when I want to get a brief summary of a person, place or thing. For example, I used it the other day to get some background info on Mileva Maric. When I don’t know exactly which fact I want, but want to learn more about a subject, Encarta is faster and more reliable than the Web. Wikipedia is a close second, and I often use it as well (here, for example, is its entry on Ms. Maric). Wikipedia enjoys much deeper linking, which is a bonus.
As a side note, I see that Encarta shares its slogan ‘more useful every day’ with Hotmail. While this has never been true of Hotmail–it’s been getting less useful since day one–it’s far truer of Encarta, which offers weekly (weekly!) updates.