When I was in elementary school my parents purchased the 1992 version of the World Book Encyclopedia from a door-to-door salesman. It was expensive (around $1,000), but definitely a great investment. I used the encyclopedia all the time for cursory research – and also (despite the negative school-yard stigma) I would occasionally pick up a volume and read through it cover-to-cover.

It was amazing to me to be able to sit there in our living room and look at all of the knowledge in the world sitting before me in 22 neat volumes. It was definitely a lot of material, but it was manageable enough, even for me at age 8, to open a volume and just start reading.

With the proliferation of digital technology and the emergence of Wikipedia, the way we access this sort of information has fundamentally shifted. We’ve traded in the 22 neat volumes for 3.2MM articles and 19.5MM pages of information.

I think Wikipedia is great – and there are many obvious benefits of having such a robust deposit of information available to everyone for free. However, with such suffocating volume comes drawbacks as well. It may be the best reference source that has ever been created –but I certainly doubt we will see any 8 year olds trying to read through it cover-to-cover.


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