“What’s an encyclopedia?”
The question was posed in earnest, no shame in asking, right?
What astounded me the most was that it had never occurred to me, baby boomer in full regalia, that there are people inhabiting my planet who had never seen one. Encyclopedia, that is.
You might have a different thought here. Why were we even discussing such a topic?
Trivia. No, the answer isn’t trivial. It was the topic of conversation that day–trivia games and our various aptitudes for bringing forth irrelevant and unimportant scraps of information, often tamped down deep in our grey matter.
I’m good at trivia. So good that many worthy combatants have gone down like a jet in a massive nosedive. Never to darken my card table again. (Yes, I do also have a problem with people disappearing from my life, but that’s a topic for another dark, vodka-steeped day.)
Anyway, I started wondering where I got all these disconnected, obscure facts. I do read–a lot–but today I devour detective novels and sappy love stories, not historical nonfiction. Even though I taught history for years, but it was to 13-year olds so it doesn’t count. I read to escape, so I know all the shades of grey and every formula for motive-means-and-opportunity.
Ah, but wait! As a kid, growing up in my house could be, well, distracting. (I was thinking of using another word, but some of those people will be reading this, so….) A therapist later told me (oops, another clue) I reverted to a soul-saving technique called “duck and cover.” And my activity while I was cowering, er, I mean covering, was to read the encyclopedia. In my room, curled up on my bed to make myself as tiny as I could be. Maybe that way they couldn’t see me, right?
I must have filed all that A-Z data in a lockbox way behind my ears. And when the trivia games heat up, the skeleton key to the box magically appears with a flourish and I WIN! I’m as surprised as my opponents when those answers fly out of me, unbidden.
Young people don’t know, have never even seen, the 24-volume set of books containing the knowledge of the world, right there for anyone–including little girls hiding under the covers–to devour. So, how do we preserve concepts like this for today’s devotees of Google? They carry the uber-encyclopedia around with them in a pocket or their hand and don’t have any historical frame of reference for it.
Astounding. Or is it like schools that don’t teach handwriting any more? Does it really matter?
Trivia anyone? Like, aren’t there 26 letters in the alphabet?