Thursday, June 21, 2012

On Books

I did something I never thought I'd do.

Last Tuesday, I went to a local library and donated books. Several hundred of them.

If you're my age, or close to it, giving books away would have seemed impossible, even a decade ago. "Educated" people didn't give books away-- they hoarded them.

When I was growing up, and you went to someone's house, the litmus test for someone's level of education was how many books they had. A stand-alone book case was decent. A wall of built-in bookshelves was much better. A personal library room, though, was the apex predator in those days.

If you wanted to learn, or had questions, you needed books at home. You needed a set of encyclopedias--reference materials. You needed information.

And you didn't give books away, because you never knew when you might need to refer to something. I kept a college textbook on Chinese literature for 30 years, because if I didn't, I wouldn't have that information.

Why did I need information on Chinese literature? Damned if I know. But I had it, and I wasn't going to give it away.

In our exercise room, we have an entire wall of bookshelves that we had built shortly after we bought the house. Seriously, I think we were a little smug about having them. The sign of educated people, right?

That was barely 10 years ago.

In that 10 years, inconceivable changes have completely transformed how we access information. How we learn.

Now, even if I didn't have even one book in the house, I could learn anything--anything--by going to the Internet.

Monks used to copy manuscripts by hand. It would take them months to copy a single volume, and those manuscripts were defended at all costs, more valuable than life itself.

Now, almost every piece of human history, every created work, is instantly available to everyone. It's incredible. The democratization of information may be as important as any event in human history.

When I gave those books to the library, I was giving away information, but I wasn't losing it. Now, I have a library of books on my tablet. It's incredibly convenient, because I can't carry stacks of physical books around with me. And I don't need to fill up the house with books to have access to information.

One of the books Gloria found, that she'd bought in 1997, was a real classic:

Just look at some of the chapter titles:
--What is the Internet, Where Did It Come From, Where Is It Going, And Do I Get To Keep My Books When We Get There?
--But What Does All This Have To Do With Books And Reading?
--Hooking Up: Simple Ways To Connect Yourself To The Internet
--Usenet Discussion Groups: Adding Your Two Cents' Worth
--The World Wide Web And Its Search Engines

Here's a list of the hot search engines:
--Excite Netsearch
--WebCrawler Searching

Here's an excerpt:
Almost any sort of computer can be used to hook into the Net. I say "almost" because there are some computers so thoroughly obsolete (the Radio Shack TRS-80 springs to mind) that trying to find communications software to use on them wouldn't be practical. Any IBM-compatible, Apple Macintosh, or Amiga computer, however, is a definite candidate for Net use.

...Get as much memory (RAM) as you can afford. Many entry-level computers come with 4 megabytes of RAM, but 8 megs is the minimum needed to run most World Wide Web browsers smoothly, and 16 megs would be a very wise investment.

It's like paging through a time machine, except the time was only fifteen years ago. Plus, even though it's a little too late to be useful, I found out that something called a "SLIP emulator" existed back then.

I should probably keep this book around. Never know when it might come in handy.

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