Matthew Inman wrote a post over at The Oatmeal today about his experience with the Apple Watch. Other than the part in which he’s actually a runner, his experience with the Apple Watch is pretty much the same as mine:

  • It will not replace your iPhone;
  • Battery life is a non-issue;
  • It gets me off my ass,
  • And rewards me for really basic shit;
  • And this is the future.

I’ve resisted doing an Apple Watch review to this point because a) there are a million Apple Watch reviews already and b) with a device of this type, I want to use it for a while before I share my thoughts with the masses.(1) But yeah, I pretty much agree with Mr. Inman.

Except on one point: The taptic engine. Inman writes,

taptic engine

I agree that it could be the death of the ringtone – and oh boy do I hope that’s true – but I wouldn’t call what the Apple Watch does “vibrating.” There are lots of thing out there that vibrate: phones, sports bands, smartwatches, speakers, The Flash…you get the idea.(2)

The Apple Watch is not one of them.

I’ve said since at least high school that rather than buying an alarm clock I would rather pay someone to gently tap my arm and intone just above a whisper, “Hey. Hey…it’s time. Time to wake up. C’mon Bo. There’s coffee out there.” People often joked that having that would cost a lot more than an alarm clock. Turns out that’s true; it cost me around $400.

That’s what the taptic engine does. Imagine the nicest little old lady in the world. She’s stooped and adorable and makes sure you always get a hot meal when you stop by and never busts your balls about how little you stop by. She’s someone of whom Mother Teresa would marvel, “What a gentle soul.”

That’s the taptic engine.

After years of garish ringtones, from that Nokia tone so annoying it became a friggin’ plot point in Love Actually to those über-grating Drooooooooooid tones to your Rihanna songs and, yes, even lightsabers, we finally have a notifier that’s more Buddha than Westboro Baptist Church. More gin-and-tonic than Jägermeister. More Iron & Wine than Aerosmith. More Jarvis than Hulk.

Or perhaps the best way to make my point is this: Apple Watch has absolutely zero functionality for measuring your sleep. This may soon change, now that Apple will allow third-party apps to access the Watch’s processors and sensors. But for the past month since I’ve had my Watch,(3) I’ve worn it while sleeping solely because the taptic alarm is the alarm I’ve been waiting for all my life. I wear it when I sleep because I want it to wake me up.

“Hey. Hey…it’s time. Time to wake up. C’mon Bo. There’s coffee out there.”

It’s not something that vibrates. It’s the most pleasant, most subtle attention-getter out there.

  1. “The masses” here being the three or four people who read this blog.
  2. Keeping it clean here, obviously.
  3. Yes, it feels horribly pretentious and insidiously fan-boyish to capitalize “watch” like that. But…somehow the device commands it. I have no excuse.

how amazon is going to kill me

We all have our things, right? Those things that cause strangers to allow us a wide berth and loved ones to inquire re our okay-ness. Those twitchy things we try not to think on whilst standing at the urinal or in line at the coffee shop. Things that pull us out of a good book, a great tune, or sometimes even a fun little romp in the hay. We all have our things, and, in the wrong hands, they could be used to strip us of our sanity.

When I had to replace my Kindle after the cats broke it, I used several Best Buy reward-point coupons to save around $25.00 or so. The only problem? Best Buy doesn’t sell the Kindle without Special Offers.(1) But saving the money was more important and I thought maybe the ads wouldn’t be that annoying.

I was wrong. Amazon’s Special Offers make me feel like driving a nail file into my eyes. I want my Kindle to replicate my reading experience, but the Special Offers are like having an ad right there on the book cover. Gross. I’d rather it be covered in snot.

So a few twitchy days after I bought the Kindle, I handed Amazon twenty bucks to remove them permanently. My Kindle updated with nice screen-savers, way better than the pictures of long-dead authors that were the screen-savers on my old Kindle. Overall I was satisfied.(2)

The next day though, after downloading a book, the Special Offers came back. As did my high blood-pressure. I called Amazon and the tech guy worked through a few solutions with me. After about 30 minutes, the Special Offers were gone.

Until I downloaded another book a few days later. This time I reset the device on my own and they went away…until a I browsed the Kindle store a few days later. No one at Amazon can figure this out, and in the meantime I’m looking like a Parkinson’s patient every time the ads show up yet again.(3)

Another one of my things is this:

photo[1] copy

The little red circle that Apple uses seems tiny and innocuous, but it runs my life.(4) If I wake up at three AM and check my phone and one of those apps has a little red dot, I’m doing whatever has to be done to clear it.

In this case, I need to update an app. The Kindle app, actually. But look at this:


“There is a known issue with this update, the issue being that we just want to fuck with you. Also, we are mean, mean jerks.”

Amazon is telling me that this update has like diphtheria or something and that I’d best not update. Which, first of all, why? Why is there an update that the developer itself says I shouldn’t use. This is why the vein in my forehead is at critical pressure right now.

And secondly, this means I can’t clear that little red dot. So every time I look at my phone or my iPad, the urge to strangle someone at Amazon gets ever stronger. AAAH!

If I don’t make it through this, please someone have put on my gravestone that ’twas Amazon what did me in. They deserve the credit since they’re working so hard at it.

  1. For the uninitiated, Special Offers are ads. They are screen savers offering you discounts on electric razors. They are banners at the bottom of your home screen trying to get you to buy a new thriller by Thrilly McThrillerson.
  2. And I still saved my $25.00, since the price between the Kindle with and Kindle without Special Offers was a $20 difference.
  3. Which, yes, I realize I could avoid by reading actual books. And I will. But it’ll still drive me crazy that Amazon’s “Special” Offers are on my Kindle.
  4. When the cats aren’t.

why i’m quitting facebook

A few years ago I went through a pretty bad break-up.(1) Not only that, but for quite some time afterward she went to a dark place and did all kinds of things – some forgivable, some not as much. And there’s one thing she did that I personally find wholly unforgivable, I don’t care who’d’ve done it. Generally when this kind of thing happens, I cut all ties with a person.(2)

So, I cut all ties with her, which was fairly easy since she lives two hours away. Oh she emailed me every now and again, usually when something went well in my life and she had to let me know she was happy for me. But I didn’t want to hear it.  So I blocked her. I long ago deleted her phone number and all that sort of stuff, so I pretty much have no reason whatsoever to ever encounter her.

But I do. More often than I care for. All because of Facebook.

She and I have a small handful of mutual friends, still. And through these friends I sometimes see her name and read her comments. Or sometimes I don’t comment because I know she’ll comment later, which is I suppose terribly weak on my part but when someone’s put this kind of bad taste in your mouth, you want to be not just quit of her but all-the-way quit. You don’t even want to read about her on the bathroom wall in the dirtiest, dodgiest latrine in the Northern Hemisphere.

But Facebook doesn’t care about that. In fact, Facebook is very interested in it in its own way.

You see, what matters to Facebook – and many other social sites – isn’t the number of users. It doesn’t matter one lick if you have one billion customers because they could all be gone next year. Ask MySpace, if you can find anyone to talk to over there.

What matters, I’ve come to realize, are the connections between those one billion users. I’m not sure what the figures are, but let’s say that within those one billion users there are maybe 250 million relationships. Or it might go the other way: 250 trillion. Like I said, I’m not sure. But every single one of those one billion users are more likely to keeping using as long as Facebook gives them a means to relate to each other.(3) How they choose to relate to each other – be it through stupid games or lazy ‘likes’ or even Faecbook’s new Poke app – doesn’t matter nearly as much as that Facebook has those relationships to begin with. The only reason it develops new ways for you to interact with people is so that you’ll keep interacting with people, and hopefully, with more and more people.

And so, yeah. The fact that she and I used to be in a relationship is important to Facebook. A fair number of people maintain friendships with exes,(4) or don’t keep them as exes for very long.(5) Friendships can be rekindled, and people who haven’t talked to each other since high school suddenly become very interested in each other. Facebook knows this,(6) and all it does is provide an easy way for people to reconnect when and if they want.

This is why some groups believe that Facebook leads to adultery. But it doesn’t. Facebook leads to relationships. What we do with those relationships is entirely up to us.

And so, because of Facebook, I keep running into this person, though in the natural course of things I never would. And Facebook wants me to keep running into her because that relationship is its bread and butter. And Facebook wants me to keep tabs on a whole slew of other people I don’t really care about either. Because Facebook doesn’t want me. It wasn’t my relationships. Since relationships are emotional bonds, Facebook wants my emotions. And it will keep poking my emotions with a hot stick, over and over again, on the off-chance that doing so will re-create yet one more emotional bond it can convert to cash.

Like I said: right or wrong, I generally cut all ties people who violate the principles I most adhere to. So, I’m cutting all ties with Facebook. I will continue blogging here, and you can always reach me by email. But come Dec. 31, I’m breaking up with Facebook.

  1. You can probably replace “went through” with “caused,” though I believe that it takes two to make a bad break-up.
  2. I’ll point out that people often judge me as fickle and some have suggested that my ability to completely cut people off is pathological, if not sociopathic. This may or may not be true. In my defense I’ll say only this: Life is short and I see no reason to waste it with people who knowingly violate the principles I most strongly adhere to.
  3. I’ll go ahead and point out that “keep using” is a term addicts use when referring to maintaining the drug of their choice.
  4. I hear, at least, that this is possible. I’m more of a I-tell-people-she-died-in-a-car-bombing type, myself.
  5. And then don’t keep them as non-exes very long, etc.
  6. I don’t think of Facebook as some monolithic Moloch. When I say “Facebook knows this,” I mean the people who run things at Facebook know this. Though, to be clear, while I think television is something of a benign addiction, I think Facebook to be actively maleficent. Television just wants us to forget we’re watching. Facebook wants us to forget we’re being watched.


Tech people tend to speak their own language. This is nothing new. Thanks to the commoditization of tech over the past two decades, the divide is somewhat more readily crossed. But still most people get a bit glossy-eyed in the presence of a technolinguist.

Ever since I read the manual on my family’s new Apple IIc back in maybe 1986, I’ve been somewhat above average in this area. I knew what a modem was before one was included in every computer.(1) I even knew that it was an abbreviation.(2) In they years hence, I’ve not lost my aptitude for techno-jargon.(3)

Nevertheless, I had a hard time decoding this email sent to me from the IT guy at the library:

Boat it.s was supposed to drop that off Friday and I parent meeting flaked on me I’ll send them an email and tell him to deliver directly to you and I make a stern 1 I apologize

sent from mobile device

I read it like five times and this is what I came up with:

Boat [Bo] it.s was supposed to [be] drop[ped] that off Friday and I parent meeting flaked on me [no clue][.] I’ll send them an email and tell him to deliver directly to you and I make a stern 1 [wait. wait?] I apologize[.] [For?]

sent from mobile device

My best guess is that the iMac I asked for didn’t get dropped off on Friday because something something. It should get dropped off to me. Sometime. Probably.(4)

When I asked him about it he said that he’d used Android’s dictation function, but I have a feeling he just typed it up, read it, laughed, and sent it. Because like all good IT people, he’s had too much sugar every day since he was like two.

Nevertheless, he worked to get me the iMac even while he was on vacation. So I guess I shouldn’t bitch too much.

  1. And then was subsequently no longer included, ejected in favor of Ethernet and then Wi-Fi.
  2. Modulator-demodulator.
  3. Though 1337-speak is beyond me, nor do I really care, it being more shibboleth than jargon.
  4. Got it yesterday.

suck it spotify. suck it long and suck it hard.

Discovering new music has always been important to me. Lately, though, I’ve been fairly lax about it. I listen to NPR’s All Songs Considered podcast(1) but that’s about it. And frankly, most of the time when something I was interested in is released, I don’t buy it because I want to listen to more than just that one song.(2)

Back in the day I had friends who would toss new music my way. But technology has – intentionally – made sharing music difficult. This is partially due to the record-label-execs and partially due to Lars “For my seventh house I had to settle for the next-to-top-of-the-line golden latrine and I’m really pissed about it” Ulrich, but also due to the tech design itself. I have all my songs on my computer and, yes, I can burn a CD for someone. But I can’t just pop a cassette or CD out of my player and toss it to my buddy while I pop his tape into my Walkman. This was a big factor of listening to music when I was younger. It’s definitely something I miss and hinders my ability to discover new tunes.

I used to rely on Pandora, but, let’s face it, Pandora sucks. It’s the RIM of the internet-radio world.(3) The ads are terrorizing and the sound quality sucks. And no matter where you start, every playlist ever will eventually lead to Jack Johnson.(4)  Slacker radio is about the same, though with less JaJo because, frankly, it’d be hard to play more.

Many of my friends use Spotify. Spotify and I already had one angry dustup a few months ago. Curious, I’d installed it on my Mac only to discover that it basically makes all of my music available to me. Which is what I use iTunes for. So…Oh but okay: If I pay $9.99 per month, I can sync playlists across my devices. Well but see I pay $24.99 per year to do the same thing through iTunes Match. So…

Yeah, I failed to see the point. Plus I was upset that Spotify began indexing my music without asking permission. Why the hell would I want two programs that do exactly the same thing taking up space on my hard drive? I already use and love iTunes. I kinda need it for lots of things anyway. So why wouldn’t I use it?

Seeing that I’d taken an obvious misstep, I set about trying to delete my Spotify account. This was ridiculous. There was no button I could simply click. I had to email someone somewhere at Spotify and ask that they delete my account. This did not improve my perception of the service.

Lately though I’d heard about their new Spotify Radio offering, which is essentially a free service not that different from Pandora though presumably it sucks less.(5) Okay. This sounded like what I was after: a simple service that doesn’t suck too much and lets me discover new music.

So I went to sign up, and this is what happened:

For starters, I’m not “90 seconds away from a world of music.” I have 1400 hundred albums right here on the very computer I’m attempting to use to sign up for your service. I am literally one second away from a world of music. Unless world has some quantity connotation of which I’m not aware, you’re blurring reality in an attempt to get me to use your service.

But more importantly: I hate Facebook. Like, you know people really hate stuff. The KKK, maybe. BP Oil. Ke$ha. It’s like that, my hate is, but to the googolplex power. I don’t know anyone who hates anything as much as I hate Facebook.(6) I don’t quit it entirely largely so I can see pictures of my infant nephew and to keep in contact with a handful of faraway friends. But I stay away from it as much as I can. Any Facebook-type post I now post to Tumblr(7) and have Tumblr share a link to it on Facebook. At most I check Facebook once per day, and feel terribly dirty every time I do.

So, no, I do not want to use my Facebook account to access anything else. Spotify doesn’t give me a choice, however. I either use Facebook or I don’t use Spotify.

So guess who can go suck it, Spotify? Yep, that’d be you.

Oh and also, this is interesting. It’s posted right there on the same page that tells me I have to use Facebook to sign up for Spotify:

Big surprise, right? But what I really want to know is: who left out the punctuation? Was it Spotify or was it Zuckerberg? Zuck got into Harvard so I’m inclined to believe he knows to throw in a period or an exclamation point where warranted. Then again, he’s been hanging out with Sean Parker for years and that sort of thing has to bring you down a few IQ points. As for Spotify, I know they’re a British company but I’m pretty sure they use punctuation over there. I’ve gotten well-punctuated emails from English friends I can submit as evidence.(8)

Whatever the case, my involvement with Spotify will be precisely like the involvement of the punctuation at the end of that sentence: non-existent.

  1. Even though I’m convinced that listening to NPR ages you before your time. Like for every minute you listen to NPR you age 1 minute, 45 seconds or something like that. Down the road we’ll say, “Bob sure looks old for only being 55.” “Oh, well, he’s more like 63 in NPR years.” “Oh I see. Poor guy.”
  2. Well and what a couple of audiophile windbag elitists had to say about it.
  3. Research In Motion, maker of BlackBerry smartphones. They’re in a bargain bin somewhere with companies like K-Mart that sit around talking about how they just really didn’t think Apple/Walmart were all that big a deal.
  4. Hence my Jack Johnson Theory of Music Reductivity: If you keep making music that appeals to the greatest number of people and you reduce by common terms for five or six decades in a row, you’ll come to Jack Johnson, the lowest common denominator of the music world.
  5. Notably though, a review over at PC Mag whinges frequently about the ads, leading to me to believe that perhaps it is worse. No word on the Jack Johnson phenomenon.
  6. Well, I have an ex who probably hates me more than I hate Facebook. But there’s really no reason to get into that right here anyway.
  7. A service, by the way, that lets you retain ownership and copyright of any intellectual property you post on it.
  8. Though they are a bit overzealous w/r/t the letter u.

audiophilia; or, in which i explicitly recommend a product, something i’ve never done before

It’s impossible for me to unravel my physical and psychological development from my introduction and education to music. Between the interstices of my life’s more memorable moments are equally memorable first-listens, new musical discoveries, soundscapes of broad imagining. Much of this is due to my father’s record collection and the stereo we used, my brother and I, to learn The Beatles frontwards and, dare I say, backwards. And sometimes, on rare and therefore special occasions, I would listen to dad’s records with his awesome, head-squeezing, ear-flattening headphones.

These things were straight from the 70s: big, brown, complexly designed and with a curlicued wire. They were more-or-less the exact opposite of today’s headphones: small, white, simple and straightforward. But they were also much, much better. The first time I heard I buried Paul(1) in ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ was whilst wearing these Geigerian monstrosities. I’d heard the song a bunch of times before, but this time dad had handed me the ‘phones and said, “Here. Have a listen with these.” The experience was encapsulating and marvelous. And terrifying. I never knew so much could happen in a song, that so much could go on inside of a sound.

A few months ago I purchased a set of Bose OE2i headphones. Yes yes, they’re a little on the pricey side, I know. But rarely have I purchased something I felt was so entirely worth it.

Let’s get the basic stuff out of the way. The headphones are light and comfortable. They don’t make my head feel like a big zit like my dad’s 70s ‘phones did. They don’t squish my ears. They don’t hurt the top of my head. I don’t look like an alien. Or, at least not any more than usual.

This particular model is meant to play very nicely with various iDevices, and it does. The wire includes a microphone unit that works exactly like the one on the standard iPhone/iPod headphones.(2) I can press-and-hold and use Siri to read texts, send texts, pull up songs…all the stuff you’d use Siri for. When people call I answer and can hear them just fine. They can hear me just fine. So the OE2i’s do what they’re meant to do in the iDepartment.

One of the reasons I chose these over the noise-cancelling QuietComfort 15s is that the OE2i’s are collapsable. The cable detaches and the whole thing tucks into a smallish case that’s included with the headphones. This is big for me because I walk around town a lot and work on a college campus, so I tend to have my backpack with me all the time. This little case means I can toss these pricey headphones into my backpack without worrying about them snapping apart because I set my bag down wrong.

So there’s that. All the physical stuff is great. Works with iDevices. Tucks safely away. Now: How do they sound?

In a word: awesome.

And let me just say that I mean that word literally. Sometimes I have to stop and just listen in awe at whatever it is I’m hearing. The entire audio range, low-to-high, is available to my overeager ears. The full stereo spectrum is my bitch. I’m back to feeling like a kid again, discovering new wonders in songs I’ve heard a bazillion times.

Did you know that if you listen to “A Day in the Life” all the way to the end – all the way until the big chord at the end is barely audible, until you can hardly take in any more sound – if you listen that long you can hear the fan of the studio’s HVAC system, presumably as the engineer turned the gain way way up to make that chord last forever? And if you hang in there just past that point, just a bit longer, you can hear someone shift on a piano seat. It’s there. I swear it.

I have a set of Bach cello suites during which I can hear a) the cellist breathing whilst playing, and b) the sound of the bow hitting the strings. I can hear vocalists shifting their weight on the floor. I can hear fingernails hitting piano keys.

So now if I can hear all of that – and I’ll admit that since I’m anosmic and pretty much blind maybe my hearing has Daredeviled-it-up out of compassion – but if I can hear all of that, imagine how great the music sounds?

What’s even better, though, is listening to movies and television. My iPad has become my favorite device to watch flicks on simply because I can use the headphones. Most televisions these days don’t have the speakers capable of the deep bass sounds many movies employ. Many of them aren’t capable of even the soundscapes of Lost, which, by the way, are as intriguing as the show itself. When it came to music I had a belief that I wasn’t hearing everything that was available to hear, but when it came to movies and shows I had no idea. These headphones are worth the money even if you just watch something as you ride the train to work everyday.

The last thing I want to talk about is recording. I record my own songs using GarageBand (both for Mac and iPad) and the OE2i’s have completely changed my approach to recording. It’s not just that I can hear what I’m recording better. It’s that I can hear what other engineers and producers have done and learn from them. It’s like reading a book, then reading a study guide, and then reading the book again.

The Bose OE2i headphones aren’t technically classified as noise-cancelling headphones, but you won’t notice. When you put them on, everything else is drowned out even if no music is playing. Once you start-up your favorite tunes though, it won’t matter. What you hear will be so completely amazing that you won’t pay attention to anything else anyway.

So there you go. That’s how I feel about the headphones: unadulterated audiophilic love.(3)

  1. Or cranberry sauce, depending on which source you believe.
  2. Why don’t iPads include headphones? Does anyone have an answer to this?
  3. Should probably point out that neither Bose nor anyone else paid me for this. I just think these headphones are awesome and wanted to tell my seven readers about them.



I miss vinyl. Not the sound of it, though The Beatles don’t sound quite right without the vinyl scratch. I miss spending a few hours with dad’s stereo listening to records backwards for hidden messages. It’s not the messages I miss; it’s the time it took to find them. These days I’d just look it up on the internet and go to just that spot.

I also miss vinyl for the artwork. Some of the album covers blew my mind(2) and I really miss getting lost in the artwork whilst listening to the album. Yes, my iPhone displays the artwork, but, well, size does matter sometimes.

I miss hooking my stereo up to the cable system in such a way that let me use about 15 – 20 miles of cable as my antenna. I would get FM stations from like Virginia. It was better than satellite radio because I figured it out for myself and because the DJs had cool accents and talked about places I’d never heard of.

I miss buying a new album at a store and going home to listen to it all in one sitting. I miss going through my friends’ dads’ record collection, discovering great bands and songs all afternoon. Now there are recommendation engines and Like buttons.

I miss how my brother and I would sometimes take one of Dad’s 45s and keep it in our room and listen to it over and over and over and over.(3) I miss how we would watch the same movie on VHS over and over every morning before school, stopping it when it was time to go out to the bus and picking up at that point the next day.(4) We ruined a couple of tapes doing this.

I miss family-owned radio stations that would play some weeeeeird stuff after about 2PM. The first time I ever honestly suspected someone was high was when I listened to some local station’s DJ as he went on and on about some band at 3AM. You’d never hear that today.

I miss the inclination to tinker. These days, security is always a top concern. And while I appreciate that, I also miss figuring out what else a device can do.(5)

I miss driving around to figure out who else’s garage door a given garage door opener would open. Which sounds really boring, I know. But drive by someone’s house about once every ten minutes and open or close their garage door each time and you’ll see in fairly short order how entertaining it really can be.

I miss picking up the phone to discover my little sister talking on the other phone in the house. I miss that if you picked up the receiver very slowly no one knew you were on the line. I miss dialing our own number and watching her or my brother pick up the phone. I miss the sound of rotary phones. I miss looking someone up in the phone book. I miss knowing all my friends’ numbers.

I miss how my friends would call me up just to see if I wanted to ride places with them. Burger King was one. Sometimes the lumber yard or to see a girl. Any event was an excuse for inclusion. Today everyone listens to headphones all the time, less, I suspect, for the music and more for the exclusion.

I miss the garage band my brother and I had going for a while. We were awful and didn’t even have a singer. But we had a lot of fun doing it. And I definitely miss jamming with my brother.(6)

I miss maps. I miss planning out a trip, which roads you’d take. I miss Mom asking when we’d get to this or that place and I was always able to figure that out fairly well. I would just pour over maps as a kid and have an almost preternatural understanding of the interstate system because of it.

And, lastly, I miss sitting in the back of a car with nothing to do. I couldn’t read in a car without getting sick, and we didn’t have GameBoys and certainly not small televisions in the car. At best we had a deck of cards. This is why our family are about the most hardcore Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game players out there.(7) I miss having nothing to do but doing so very much.

  1. If you’re reading this and you’re one of my parents, please let’s assume that the statute of limitations has run out on any and all offenses, real or perceived, contained herein.
  2. And in one case flat-out terrified me.
  3. We did this with both Billy Joel’s “My Life” and Phil Collins’s “In the Air Tonight.”
  4. We did this with Teen Wolf and at least one of the Star Wars movies.
  5. Without the arcana necessary to be a hacker.
  6. Who’s better at drums than I’ll ever be at guitar but who played so loudly no one could tell I couldn’t keep up.
  7. Dad one time connected Mr. Bacon with Charlie Chaplin in fewer than six steps. If we weren’t in a car at the time, we all would have bowed down to the Master.


Thanks, Apple, for including this little message. I like that I got to feel like a genius – for having figured that out on my own – and an idiot – for you thinking I might not be able to – at exactly the same moment.


Mashable is reporting today that Encyclopedia Britannica will be going digital-only, making the last-ever print-edition available for a cool $1,395. This might, of course, explain why the publisher isn’t making money on the print edition anymore. In a world of Google and Wikipedia, who’s going to pay that much to be able to look stuff up? Instead, they’ll be focusing on the Britannica apps.

I’m not one to hesitate when it comes to technology nor when it comes to replacing old ways of doing things. When the new ways are cheaper, more expansive, and can bring information to more people, I am especially all for it. Nevertheless, I find myself saddened by this turn.

My parents bought a set of encyclopedias when I was young. There was a wooden shelf in our living room that held them all. They looked so official with their maroon binding and gold inlays. I often couldn’t resist pulling one from the shelf and leafing through it. Or I’d just open to a random page and learn something new.

In other words, I loved the encyclopedias not because they helped me learn what I wanted to know but because they helped me explore what I didn’t know.

And this, in my opinion, is something the internet simply isn’t good at. I can’t possibly do a Google search for something I don’t know that I don’t know. StumbleUpon purports to help with this sort of thing, but it still wants you to input what you like so the results aren’t strictly random. And, let’s be honest, 90% of what you find using StumbleUpon is just a variation on the stuff you’ve already found using StumbleUpon.

I see this trend in the library as well. People used to come to the library armed with one call number and walk out with maybe six books. They took part in something I call serendipitous searching, which is finding something useful beyond what you meant to find. Nowadays, though, people hop on the online catalog and simply request the item they want. My students and I pull the item and the patron comes to desk and picks up the one item they wanted to get.

Like strictly-online resources, I don’t know that this inhibits research. I have no hard data or statistics. But it does seem to limit exploration, even adventure. That’s really what those encyclopedias were for me, a way to slip out of the living room and into the waters of the Amazon or between the quarks of an atom or even fly among the varying beliefs of the world’s religions. I learned so much that I wouldn’t have found otherwise.

The death of a printed Encyclopedia Britannica is another step away from the less-traveled roads. While I love the idea of a great Britannica app, I would miss flipping to a random page and discovering something completely new about the world. I would misfinding a lot of things without searching for anything at all.