I’m a sucker for old encyclopedias. The older, the better. I love looking at how things were perceived years ago, what people thought was vital enough to include in this compendium of important stuff. What merited inclusion, how much space it was granted, and what was the general knowledge around the topic? Not only that, the old photos are always great.

One thing the Digital Age has negatively impacted, especially concerning information gathering, is any sense of perspective, any sense of the history behind what you’re looking up. What did people think about that particular topic 10, 20, 30 years ago? (Actually, at the rate information gets updated, what people thought about it last week often quickly slips away.) The constant and persistent drive to provide the latest and greatest viewpoint often obscures and ignores the long road taken to get where we are today. Something is lost when the relationship between what was and what is gets brushed aside so swiftly. Browsing through old encyclopedias, though by no means comprehensive, does help frame some of that history. While this is not an issue for serious scholars, it is something lost to the rest of us.

This photo is from the article on computers in the Ci-Cz volume of the 1972 World Book encyclopedia. It shows four photographs in support of descriptions of basic computer principles. Although my photo leaves a lot to be desired (ahhh, the challenge of no proper lighting equipment!), the perspective provided on computers throughout the article is fascinating. Since World Book was aimed at younger readers, the description and details are more simplistic than you would find in say, Britannica, but it’s still pretty interesting. One piece I am particularly taken with discusses Computers of the Future. Here’s an excerpt.

Computers of the future will be used more and more to give immediate answers to problems. Persons already can get certain kinds of information from a computer by speaking into a telephone and receiving a spoken reply…Someday, the services of single computers will be shared by businessmen, engineers, and scientists. Each “customer” will communicate directly with the computer by telephone or by means of a keyboard machine similar to a typewriter. The computer will handle many questions at the same time. It will give each questioner a spoken reply, a typed answer, or information projected on a screen similar to that of a television set.

This is cool stuff! It’s so cool it makes me wanna look up other cool stuff. So off I go to grab the “P” volume and see what was happening in the world of 1972 photography!

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Comments
  1. Linda Sand says:

    My spouse was working with computers back then. He lived this history. It still amazes us.

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  2. rangewriter says:

    That is cool stuff. Made me think about what I was doing in 1972. THAT made me think I’m ancient.

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  3. Bruce says:

    A good, if not scary, flashback. In 1972 as a young guy, I was being taught how to operate my employers computers that mostly took care of payroll. The computer took up fair bit of one room which was a few metres by a few more metres. The computer ran a program that was fed to it in the form of a big stack of cards (about 3x2ins). The cards had holes punched in them a bit like a pianola music roll. The room was air-conditioned and it was an important room with some status attached, it wasn’t really nerdy then. Your average spreadsheet now would do it in seconds and on your lap. Bruce

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  4. I like things from back then that predict what will be happening now. And all that stuff they’re messing with could now fit into a digital watch that comes in a cereal box. I mean, not physically, but in terms of computing power.

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  5. kayjai says:

    Very cool stuff…

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  6. Saara says:

    Reading historical predictions always leave me in so awe! If only I could tell those guys somehow –
    “Hey, you were right!”

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  7. surroundedbyimbeciles says:

    I have a complete history of the US from 1876. It’s a lot different than the history we teach now.

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  8. By the time I got to the end of this I was thinking, “This is so five minutes ago.” Another excellent piece, my friend. Our technological society is losing its depth and soon we all will be in the shallow end of the pool.

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  9. Wow. Whoever wrote that was very prescient!

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