An answer to virtually any question, except maybe one

“Some things man was never meant to know. For everything else, there’s Google.”—Anonymous

The encyclopedia salesman sat in our living room one West Texas summer night in 1957 touting the wisdom and knowledge in the volumes of bound books he was hoping to sell my father. His dramatic closing pitch was to lean forward, look at me and say, “Ask me a question, son. Any question, and I’ll find the answer right here.”

Somewhat shy at nine, I sat silently glancing first at my father, then at the salesman. “Go ahead,” dad encouraged. “Ask him a question.”

“What was the Lone Ranger’s real name,” I blurted out.

The suddenly drowning salesman stammered for a lifeline, but he needn’t have feared. Dad bought the encyclopedias even though the Lone Ranger’s identity remained a mystery.

Fifty-three years later, Encyclopedia Britannica published its last printed volumes after 244 years. The final updates were printed in 2012 although Britannica lives on in digital format only.

My reliance on digital devices today is remarkable given that in the early 80s I was heard to say, “I’ll never need to know how to operate a computer, just bring me the printouts to read.” Yeah, famous last words.

In an age when even printouts are almost a thing of the past, there is precious little I do without a computer. Checks? Hardly see one anymore. My income is direct deposited, my bills are paid online, and my cash is this thing called debit card. I shop the internet when I can’t buy locally and get it a couple of days later, if not overnight. I can visit more friends and family in one day than was once possible in months before cyberspace.

Daily Bible scriptures; health and nutrition tips; magazines; newspapers; books: all in my own personal pocket library for reading anywhere including the doctor’s waiting room where five-year-old magazines are standard enlightenment.

Speaking of doctors, personal medical records are a heartbeat away on most physician’s websites offering more medical knowledge in 60 seconds than one busy doctor ever provided in ten minutes of questioning, plus answers to those questions I forgot to ask.

Many things once commonplace, are today not only just a click away but often a click away only, period. “Online only” is something that has its good points and some maybe not so good.

When my device blinks once, it’s an Excedrin headache of unfathomable proportions—worse even than a number 23. I believe the degree of improvement in lifestyle when technology works and the degree of frustration when it doesn’t is proportionately equal to the “good old ways.” When the good old ways didn’t work, it was mildly frustrating but only a minor inconvenience. We had yet to get trapped in the age of an “instantaneous gratification” lifestyle.

We mailed checks or took them into the store and forgot about it. Missing a call wasn’t a big deal. In fact, we didn’t know we had missed one before voice mail. We always caught up with real face-to-face visits the next time we saw each rather than rudely thumbing away on phones. We bought things in real stores and talked to real people.

Some complain about “wasting too much time on computers.” Granted, some do while away excess hours on devices. But savor the reality of a simplified life via speed of communication and ease of performing everyday tasks in many ways. And a wealth of information, including the Encyclopedia Britannica, is available at your fingertips in seconds.

In fact, just one question remains for which I cannot find the answer. I still don’t know the Lone Ranger’s real name.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune.

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