RIP Encyclopeadia Britannica

USA Today ran an article yesterday explaining the end of the printed Britannica encyclopedia in book form (the internet version is alive and well). Yes, we all knew this day was coming. Yes, we have seen similar changes in other media. Still, for those of us who grew up fascinated by dinosaurs, astronauts, state birds, and pirates, this creates conflicting feelings. On one hand we are seeing the swan song of non-digital media, which I feel has myriad benefits for learning and society as we move forward. Yet, the nostalgia of flipping through those big black (or maroon, as ours were) volumes to look again at a favorite page, I wonder if future generations will still have favorite pages of online encyclopedias. Do we now learn “a mile wide and an inch deep,” or are we still creating mini-geniuses, as I was at age ten (at least in the realm of dinosaurs)?  Regardless, Here is a little guess at the next established media/reference that will close up the print shop, never to return in paper form:

  1. World and Farmer’s Almanacs
  2. Rand McNally Atlas
  3. Webster’s dictionary / Roget’s Thesaurus
  4. Norton Anthologies
  5. Chilton Manuals
  6. Gray’s Anatomy Texts
  7. Paper calendars
  8. Writing guides (APA, MLA, etc)

Sure, some of these may do limited paper business, but I think a lot of companies on the fence will look at Britannica and  decide that what’s good for Britannica, may be good for them. What are the end results of this shift? I think it will be good, and I think the entry users of the online versions of all of these are probably already using them. Will the steady increase in expense (for print versions) and the aging digital generation simply obsolete them? I think so. But I do think that it does change the scope and purpose for some of the information sharers, and it remains to be seen if that remains a benevolent change, or if it becomes easy to leverage for more nefarious purposes, such as manipulation or politicization of information. In the meantime, I still have a set of Britannica Encyclopedias, and I still open up to the dinosaur section to visit, and to share  the visit with my children. The internet may know a lot more about dinosaurs, but those 11 pages of text and pictures still represent a tiny yet specific niche of knowledge I fear my children may not have. Or perhaps theirs will be even more textured and complete. We shall see.

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