I am not that old, but I did not grow up with the Internet at my fingertips. Instead, I had World Book Encyclopedias. They were not cheap either. At one point my mom sold encyclopedias. I always found it kind of odd. However, looking back I have a hunch she sold them so that we could have the sample set in our house. Whenever we would ask a question about something my mom would tell us: “Look it up.” I was never really a fan of pulling out the volumes that were massive like “S” and always wondered what was in the volumes like “Z.” “Q” (like Z) were in mint condition because they were rarely opened.
I had not really thought about encyclopedias in years, until I read this in the book: “Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir of Food and Love from an American Midwest Family” by Kathleen Flinn:
“Encyclopedia salesmen were a fixture of suburban America in the 1950s and 1960s, widely mocked by comedians. Regardless of the brand, the hard sell invariably included an expression of grave concern that a potential client’s children would suffer without having a ‘library in the living room.’ Most offered a payment plan to help ease the impact of the investment, which could be the equivalent of half a year’s rent.” Page 81
Her book is such a great memoir and reminder of so many items long forgotten in life, such as Chef Boyardee (which I wrote about a few days ago). It is actually incredible if you think about how fast the sharing of information has changed over the years. In addition to encyclopedias, we also had issues upon issues of National Geographic. While some of the covers and photos inside horrified me, it was a view into other parts of the world. Now we can do that in just a few clicks.
Today we are spoiled rotten. We do not have to wait to print a new version of encyclopedias and know that the money we shelled out for an entire edition of encyclopedias are old the second they are printed. We can read more than one can ever imagine after a few key strokes. We have instant access to good information and instant access to time-wasting information. It makes it much harder to know the integrity of the details, but there is plenty of it, and it is fast. We never have to worry about having a “library in the living room.”