Books the internet has made obsolete

I have a lot of books, and I’m running out of shelf space to keep them in. It occurred to me the other day that there are certain classes of books that no one with an internet connection really needs to own anymore.

1. The Dictionary. For sentimental reasons — it’s the one we had at home when I was growing up — I’ve always been partial to the American Heritage Dictionary. I have a copy of the Second College Edition, and I haven’t cracked it open in years. Whenever I see a word I’m not familiar with, I just google it. Try it. Do you know what petrichor is? I’m sure your nose does. Type define:petrichor into a Google search box.

There are other ways to find definitions on the web, but none of them are as convenient. For example there’s The address sounds promising — one of those URLs you imagine someone paid a lot of money for — but the site itself is a disappointment. For example, it could not find a definition of petrichor, a fact it revealed at the bottom of a page full of ads for petri dishes and other laboratory equipment. Plus it opened a pop-up ad. Fail.

2. Calculus textbook. This is not my original one from college — that I sold back to Follett’s for beer money sometime during the Ford administration. Years later I decided I needed a table of integrals and a general reference. But I haven’t opened that one in years either. Any time I need an integral I go to the Wolfram Mathematica Online Integrator. And for general mathematics, it’s hard to beat Mathworld — another Wolfram resource.

3. The Bible. Yeah, I have a copy. Two in fact: one in English and one in Spanish. I’d probably never get rid of either one of them — again, more for sentimental reasons than religious ones — but on the rare occasion when I need to look up some scripture, I go to the Bible Gateway, which has 20 different editions in English, and versions in dozen of other languages. For instance if you ever wondered what John 3:16 looks like in Cakchiquel, here it is:

Ri Dios can sibilaj yerajoˈ ri winek ri yecˈo chuwech re ruwachˈulef, y rumariˈ xutek cˈa pe ri Rucˈajol waweˈ chuwech re ruwachˈulef. Riyaˈ xaxu (xaxe wi) cˈa jun Rucˈajol cˈo, pero xutek pe riche (rixin) chi xabachique cˈa winek ri xtiniman riche (rixin), ma xtibe ta pa tijoj pokonal, xa can xticˈojeˈ cˈa rucˈaslen riche (rixin) xtibe kˈij xtibe sek.

4. The Encyclopedia. I don’t actually have a copy. My brother inherited the Britannica that our parents bought in the 60s (imagine what you’d find under computer). But I couldn’t finish this post without mentioning Wikipedia. A lot of people criticize it, but at least on major topics it’s as good or better than what it replaced.

I heard Clay Shirky mention that Wikipedia is the product of about 100 million hours of human effort. The time the human race spends in front of the television represents about 2000 Wikipedias a year. Imagine what could be achieved if that time were spent productively.


2 Responses

  1. I largely agree. I primarily use online dictionaries and encyclopedias. I just let go of my old set of Britannica recently. I frequently use my paper Bible, but I also use Bible Gateway.

    Books the internet *should* make obsolete: phone books. AT&T continues to dump enormous books on my doorstep on a regular basis. (I’m in Houston, the 4th largest city in the US, so our phone books are impressive.)

  2. You’re right about the phone books. How many versions of the yellow pages are out there too? I seem to get a new one every couple of months, each one claiming to be the REAL Yellow Pages. I can’t remember the last time I opened one up. I use GOOG411 a lot though.

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