I was just leafing through a magazine recently and I saw an advertisement for a set of Britannica Encyclopedia.
It made me smile and took me back to a time when Google didn’t exist…
My school had a practice of celebrating ‘Project Day’ every year. It was a huge celebration – second only to our Annual Day and Sports Day. Every year, the entire school would pick a single subject and each class would be given topics which fell within the subject. Our Project Day subjects ranged from fun ones like ‘States of India’ (which would give us tons of scope to make models and charts based on everything from Geography to Tourism) to more thought-provoking ones like ‘The use of Math in various facets of daily life’.
Project Day prep would take about a month, and on D-Day we would set up a classroom covered from head to toe with the charts and models we had worked out, right now to a massive central model that was usually the main attraction. The ‘Arts & Crafts’ lover than I am, Project Day was so much fun!
We would be informed of the ‘Project Day Topic’ just prior to our Navrathri Puja holidays and we were expected to come back loaded with information on said-topic when school reopened.
My primary and middle school years were during a time when Google hadn’t yet taken over the world, and therefore the policy of ‘Google-search’>>’Find Link’>>’Cut/Copy-Paste, Print’ hadn’t yet been devised.
We were forced to rely on good old Britannica Encyclopedias. And what a thrill that was! Britannica Encyclopedias were expensive, and therefore the small category of those who actually owned a complete set were considered a sort of ‘elite, privileged class’. The rest of us would rush to the school library and fight over who would get the shiniest and newest copy of the book. Photocopying wasn’t the norm as Xerox machines and xeroxing were expensive and we wouldn’t be allowed to take the books down to the school office. We would have extra chairs lined up all along the corridor in honour of Project Day Prep and each of us would grab a rough note and an encyclopedia and start taking notes.
There were always a couple of people who belonged to the ‘super sincere’ category and who would finish their sessions with Brittanica with not a few pages, but several notebooks filled with information… they would gaze around and not-so-discreetly indicate the amount of information they had collected, chest pumped up with pride. The rest of us ‘Little People’ would be forced to endure ‘Miss said that I had collected the most information’ boasts of pride for a few weeks more
But this isn’t about the bookworms of my class. This is about the pleasure of reading, and of diving into a book that gave you a view into a whole new world. I remember once, reading about ‘Deciduous forests’. The article had a detailed write-up and a set of accompanying photographs from deciduous forests all over the world. Some pictures looked familiar, but some looked like a painting! A painting of a beautiful place, far far away… and I would wish that I could one day visit.
Google has made searching for information easier than we could have ever imagined. But nothing compensates for an afternoon spent in a much-loved school library with a set of giggly classmates and friends, each trying to ‘shush’ the other. Rainy afternoons spent poring over big books and feeling all-important and knowledgeable, under the sleepy gaze of a grumpy librarian. Of reading about ‘Deciduous Forests’ in one page, and turning over to find an article about ‘Dyeing processes’ on the next. Yes it was tedious work, sometimes reading through boring articles but it was still fun…
I sometimes wish I could go back to those times and actually read, rather than wiki or google search and cut/copy-paste. And I wish that my kids would enjoy the pleasure of reading through big books of knowledge, a species of books that is slowly becoming extinct.
Dear Britannica, you are dearly missed.