Sunday, February 14, 2010

"I don't give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way." -- Mark Twain

We’ve got one of those massive encyclopedia sets in my house, and I can recall pulling at least one of those volumes out weekly when I was young to do homework, research or projects. I loved the articles, the pictures and the crisp white pages. Oftentimes we would get assignments where we needed to consult an encyclopedia article, maybe even photocopy a page, a picture, or more.

And then I learned how to use the Internet and I never touched that encyclopedia again.

If I didn’t know a word when I was younger, I was told to look it up. Can’t spell it? Get the dictionary. Don’t know what it means? Get the dictionary. Need a synonym? Grab a thesaurus.

Then I discovered and now I don’t even own a dictionary.

When I was taking Spanish in high school, we often had to translate paragraphs that we would need for in-class discussions, and these assignments were often handed out the day before. For the year or two, we would all write the rough draft of our paragraph in English, and then diligently go through word by word translating from our Spanish dictionaries, consulting our notes and textbooks to make sure everything was conjugated correctly.

And then somebody found babelfish (a free online translation machine) and homework didn’t take nearly as long as it used to.

Do you catch the drift? So many of these reference items have moved online, it’s hard to remember a time when doing research meant going to the library. Now, instead of buying a set of Encyclopedia Britannicas, you buy an online subscription so that you can fully access the content on their site. This is just another example pertaining to education where technology has taken a process and made it so much easier, quicker and simpler.

Companies like Britannica have been experience serious financial difficulties, according to reports on their Web site. These companies are forced to compete with free online sources, such as Wikipedia. Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia where users can actually add or edit information to certain sites has become an online phenomenon. ‘Wikipedia’ is practically a verb nowadays. Time magazine calls Wikipedia a “force” and whether you love or hate the site, you cannot disagree.

Who knows what the future holds for our encyclopedias, our dictionaries, and our thesauruses. Will they still have a spot in classrooms? Will there still be shelves for them in our local libraries? Or will their content go completely online, making the Internet the one and only source of their information.

I guess we’ll see.

Til then, Happy Sunday!

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