RIP Encyclopedia Brittanica

Advertisement for Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1913

Encyclopedia Brittanica is dead. After 244 years the go-to source for world knowledge is no more.

Of course there has been much coverage over the web. I found a post on NYTimes and Tim Carmody‘s take most insightful.

The causes seem to be many, ranging from how online information made dead tree publishing moot, or how personal computer caused its demise and so on. What interests me though is how society has begun to regard authority in general. And specifically around how news publishers, universities, governments, democracies run by pseudo monarchies and institutions of dogma spreading their brand of intolerance worldwide. The basic principle has been the same, an ignorant populace will offer its obedience as subscription revenue or in fidelity to a faith.

Encyclopedia Brittanica was a classic example of being a popular authority on knowledge of the world. Whilst there is nothing explicitly wrong in any entity playing that role, it only allowed perspectives of a handful of people based in a certain location, with specific conceptual lenses and from a specific region.

So what is the issue here? Issue is that a common man would consider this limited perspective to be the entire deal. This would be your Bible, every other possibility of being in touch with Spirituality would be to you a heresy, something only barbaric pagans would do.

For example if you were an Indian, Chinese, or from the Middle-East, then the entire complex tapestry of your Nation, Culture and all else would be given a summary treatment. Just as Tendulkar‘s achievements would barely get a couple of columns on the NY Times. They are not interested, they don’t know or if politics entered the picture they don’t want any one else to know.

FYI, look at the copy at top of picture…has accompanied the Anglo-Saxon along with the Bible..not the picture of objectivity I would think.

Thankfully we have the internet, with its Wikipedia, Twitter, Blogs, Facebook and more. Before we had a comfortable single version of an event. Now we have many perspectives, many possibilities. And that is a good thing in more ways than one would think.

First we balk at this flood of data. But if we persisted, slowly we find our conceptual boundaries expand. I have found that music of my culture is but one strain of some infinite Music, I heard harmonies that are universal and how each culture brings its flavor of joy forward. I have found better science and equally good literature outside. And have understood the nuances that drive a few of these cultures. I have also found where my culture is better, in how it teaches me to let each man take his own path to a spiritual destiny, and not prattle that mine is the one true way.

We begin to evaluate and judge everything by what we have seen before. Our ability to discriminate becomes subtle. Yes, some would still choose to peddle their dogma with renewed vigor. But others begin to see through the charade and become wiser. And in that possibility is our hope. And the hope for a humanity that outgrows its robes of dogma and allows infinite diversity to co-exist harmoniously.

Bottom line? RIP Encyclopedia Brittanica, one more ‘authority’ down!

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