Remember being a child in school and having a question and your parents or teacher would respond, “Look it up”? Of course you do. If the information that had originally spawned this conversation was how to spell a given word, then the required (by natural law) counter-response of the kid was, “If I knew how to do that I wouldn’t have asked in the first place!”
While sitting in the corner, you were given the opportunity to examine the error of your ways but you, of course, took that opportunity to grumble about how unfair the world was and “this isn’t helping me learn how to spell” and “I’m hungry. I wonder if I can sneak to the fridge and back to this corner without getting caught?”
If the question wasn’t about how to spell something, then your first option for learning anything was to look in the encyclopedia. For those of you who don’t remember—or have never encountered one—an encyclopedia was a large set of books arranged on a bottom shelf somewhere and labeled A (usually a large book) to Z (usually a small book). All but one of the letters of the alphabet were represented, the other having been used to level a nearby couch or table.
Within these books were articles about everything except for whatever the subject was that started this whole discussion. Eventually, you would find that it’s there, too, it’s just a sub-subject under something else. For instance, “baseball” might not be under “B” but as a sub-section under “Sports”. “Pizza” might be under “P” or under “F” for “Food” or “S” for “Stuff that Pretends to Be Italian But Isn’t”.
When I was a child, my parents had a complete set of the “World Book”, which was an “accessible encyclopedia” which meant that the articles within were written at a level so as to be understood by the whole family. As opposed to, say, the Encyclopedia Britanica, which was a set of books that were roughly the size of a living room and carried DETAILED articles about every subject known to man—articles so detailed that even junior high boys found the section on “human reproduction and sexuality” boring. My favorite sections were the sections on “The Military” (under “M”, surprisingly), a section on “Space Travel” (which, in the early 70s, was only current enough to “project” a lunar landing within the next decade) and the portion on the “Human Body” which had several layers of plastic pages that detailed what a human body would look like if cross-sectioned (probably under “G” for “Gross”).
The theory behind this process was that if we, as the students, were to look up information we would learn it more deeply and long-lastingly than if someone just told us the answer. The theory may be true, but it doesn’t take into account the average child’s ability to purposefully forget things if they were taught to him or her in an educational manner. This is why, to this day, we remember that Montpelier is the capital of some state (we have no idea which one) but can accurately quote every dirty limerick we ever heard.
Today’s children, when told to “look it up” just go to Google (I do this, too, learning just today that there are 37,044 words in the King James Version of the Book of Isaiah) or Bing, where they will find not only the answer to their question but also—for no readily apparent reason considering the search parameters—naked celebrities.
I think we can all see why the old ways are still the best.