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When I was 8 years old, “Knowledge is power” was my favorite quote. I loved to read and watch Jeopardy!, even though I knew few of the answers that would show up. At the time, books were knowledge, and I wanted to read every book ever written. Wikipedia and most of the internet weren’t places to get real information yet. 

The school library was my favorite place. If I wanted to know something, I just had to look at the Dewey Decimal System chart to find all of the books on the subject to explain it to me. Or I could delve into the variety of kids’ fiction that taught me about worlds that I’d never considered. I could pick and choose and learn so much. The physicality of the experience, knowing that each parcel of paper and cardboard was a self-contained compendium, was empowering. When reading books, I literally held the information in my hands. As far as I knew, that room with horrific purple carpet in Lake Windward Elementary School held the entirety of human experience and knowledge.

As I grew and went to middle school and high school, the libraries grew as well and the entirety of human knowledge seemed to as well. They continued to be the primary location to gather reputable information. Yet, books’ monopoly as the source of knowledge began to crumble. Online databases became better sources of information, even though books were often needed to fill in the gaps. A paper on “colonial American government” was simply a series of search terms, rather than just a section of books in the library. Information was no longer something to be held.

When I got to college, the library didn’t have any books. You could request books, but you to specifically identify which book you needed and to request it weeks in advance. Gone was the ability to browse all of the books about a subject to get several perspectives. Instead, you had to pick exactly what you needed with a laser-focus, not knowing how helpful any given book would be. In this system, you had to not only research the subject but in order to do that, you needed to research potential research materials on the subject to decide which ones were worth the effort of finding physical copies. Often, it wasn’t worth it.

Lately, this is how everything feels. Information has never been easier to access, and it’s never been more overwhelming. Learning something can mean reading an article or taking an online course or read a blog or read an eBook or watch a YouTube video or watch a documentary or listen to a podcast. There is more accessible information than ever before, but having an endless buffet of really good dishes is undoubtedly worse than having a few good dishes.

I no longer want to read every book (there are some real stinkers out there), but in the face of the formless info ocean we now live in, I want to remember that a book has never overwhelmed me. While there are a million types of content on the other side of your computer screen, a book is a book and nothing else. And that feels right.
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Distantly yours,

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Nikhil · 325327 Georgia Tech Station · Atlanta, GA 30332 · USA

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