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Archive for November, 2010

Telegraphing Modernized

In the past, people paid by the character to telegraph information to distant locations. Only concise bursts of information denoting major transitions were telegraphed. With 160 character limits on IM’s, 140 characters per Tweet and 420 characters to update a Facebook status, in some sense we’ve returned to the telegraphic economy of characters but without the economy of updates!

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This piece, titled Two Buck Book, by Allegra Burke, consisting of a recycled New Columbia Encyclopedia, evoked a lot of thinking about the value of reference books.  Allegra apparently paid two dollars for this book, which is listed at $140 and I paid $59 for it years ago.  The New Columbia is commonly considered the best single volume encyclopedia in the English language.

Two years ago, I discarded my copy of The New Columbia.  I had decided that the Wikipedia entries were superior to their print counterparts.

Wikipedia has the advantage of being continually updated by thousands of contributors.  Any print encyclopedia is already out of date by the time the first copy is sold.  Wikipedia is also many times more comprehensive than any print encyclopedia but is easier to use and Wikipedia is about as accurate as any print counterpart.

I wonder how long it will be until seeing a reference book or perhaps any printed book will be like seeing a scroll.

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