The World According To Damien
in a World gone mad – one sane voice emerges…

Damien on… Encyclopaedias vs Wikipedia

In a former life, I sold stuff door-to-door. Everything from home improvements to my own art(?)-works. But I cut my teeth on encyclopaedias.

Our main rival was Encyclopaedia Britannica – I sold Grolier – but whichever company you worked for, it was a tough sell. And I worked solely on commission.

The main problem was they were EXPENSIVE, so most people bought them on HP. But then Waverley came up with a great idea. They had been printing “Book Of Knowledge” since the Twenties, but in the Sixties, they began issuing it as a MAGAZINE.

The deal was, in every copy was a token. Save twelve (or sixteen – I can’t remember) and post them off to Waverley and they sent you a free binder.

The system had its pros and cons. The pros were: you would actually READ the thing, rather than just use it to look up stuff – and if you couldn’t keep up the payments you could just STOP, no harm, no foul.

But the cons were: if you did THAT, you were stuck with HALF a set of encyclopaedias – and they looked CHEAP.

Now, a while ago I actually READ a set of encyclopaedias – no, really! It was the proper book set of “Book Of Knowledge” and I read it from end to end. They made a good read, but each volume had a TEST at the end, with questions gleaned from the text.

And I got over half the answers right. However, most of those answers I would have gotten anyway. The ones I didn’t know had been covered – and I REMEMBERED they’d been covered – but I still couldn’t recall the answers.

Of course the reason was, when I read the encyclopaedias – I was FIFTY-FIVE. Old dog – new tricks. Which is probably why Einstein is quoted as saying he never bothered to commit anything to memory that he could look up in a book! 

There was also another snag. The set in question was one I’d bought years ago, second hand. They were cheap – but that’s because they were printed in 1957. Thus their coverage of the Moon landing, plasma TVs and any President after Eisenhower was – non-existent.

And therein lies an additional problem. ALL encyclopaedias are out of date BEFORE they reach the printers. Enter Wikipedia.

I had heard that Wiki had a lot of mistakes and even some JOKE entries in it – since it’s compiled by the PUBLIC. But that reputation is undeserved. In my experience, it is a work of GENIUS. The Sum Total Knowledge Of Our Planet is in there.

And if you have a question about ANYTHING – you simply Google it. F’rinstance, I just Googled “who was the president of the united states in 1957?” and immediately found out it was Dwight.

Thus, if you have one of THESE things – a computer (and who doesn’t, these days) – a set of encyclopaedias is as outdated as men’s pony-tails.

Like, less than 24 hours after Les Paul had died, I looked him up in Wiki – and his death was reported at the end of his biog. Britannica had annual update volumes, but even THEY couldn’t match THAT.

After 240-odd years, Britannica is still going – with disk versions for computers – but it’s now a DINOSAUR. A computer may be a pain in the arse sometimes, but it brings the whole World to your desk (or lap).

They say Comedy Is The Hardest Job In The World. Well maybe – but these days, it’s gotta be easier than selling bloody encyclopaedias door-to-door!


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