By Chris Wallace
The passing of the printed version of Encyclopaedia Britannica this week would have brought a sad moment to those who experienced pre-digital childhoods. The internet is to encyclopaedias what encyclopaedias are to medieval chronicles – each a big leap forward in knowledge aggregation and dissemination.
When an ivory leather-bound set of Britannicas lobbed into the semi-rural Wallace household in the mid-1970s, it seemed that the whole world had arrived condensed into thirty volumes. Each was heavy as a brick but the pages were light, printed on near airmail-weight paper. The entries, especially the long ones, were pretty good and included a few authoritative references at the end. There were great maps. You could trust the dates.
The digital generation may find it hard to believe but Encyclopaedia Britannica even back then beats the pants off the huge, collaborative, free Wikipedia of today. The wistful twinge that the announcement of the printed Britannica’s demise, which I heard on the radio, softened when a newspaper report revealed the online version would live on.
What online version? It had never occurred to me that something so solid yet outmoded as Encyclopaedia Britannica might have migrated online – a silly assumption since it’s exactly the kind of publication which could and should. We can consult quick, convenient, free, error-dotted and occasionally grotesquely manipulated Wikipedia for free or solid, fact-checked, properly referenced Encyclopaedia Britannica online for… well, for a subscription fee or free at good libraries.
Another fantastically outmoded thing which has been a preoccupation this week is walking. Spending a few days at the South Coast, and succumbing to the siren call of every get fit story in every weekend paper unavoidably read while downing bacon and eggs for the past several years, the sneakers were reluctantly dragged on. Beaches were found. One foot moved in front of the other for, ooh, roughly the same amount of time each day one usually sits around Canberra cafés downing bacon and eggs.
This may not seem a big deal to you but walking in my book is one of life’s two beyond the pale activities, the other being shopping. And even shopping has a couple of carve outs: bookshops and real estate (window) shopping are deeply pleasurable exceptions to my self-declared fatwa on an activity others find therapeutic.
But walking – no, way too boring. Living for a couple of years one street back from Manuka shops, I’d ride my bike the 100 metres to the nearest cappuccino machine rather than walk, so blanket was the perambulation ban. But the ubiquitous stories in those persistent weekend newspapers kept up their siren call – more an unavoidable doof doof beat in the end. Articles about Ruth Field’s new book Run Fat Bitch Run were the final eyelet through which the laces of my nice new Mizuno sneakers were threaded this week.
Field’s book has caused a mild storm in the body image world. She’s an English barrister who advocates the opposite tack to feel good weight loss programs. The message is get off your arse and take responsibility for your own body. She has a device – “the Grit Doctor” – an internal “voice” that gets her off the couch, out the front door and off running every day with she says big dividends for her health, career and marriage.
The book encourages readers to create their own version of “the Grit Doctor” (or borrow hers) to the same end. She triggers action rather than understanding. The trade off is you don’t have to do anything else – nothing at all. No diet. No calorie counting. Just get off your backside and move: 90 minutes walking a day to begin, transformed over time into a very slow 45 minute jog.
The book’s title (suggested by her husband, the first person to whom she applied the program) is unfortunate, playing into the worst social stereotypes about women and weight. But the message is dead on and more people will have heard about it because of the mini-media storm the title created.
Alternatively, Canberra heavyweights may want to consider Terry Moran’s “Two Jennies” regime. The combination of chucking in his job as secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, taking up Jenny Craig and, encouraged by wife Jenny, racking up the requisite 10,000 steps a day on a pedometer, has Moran looking unrecognisably svelte. As Ruth Field might put it, where there’s a will there’s a way.
The Oxford English Dictionary Online says “walk” derives from the Germanic “wealcan” – to roll or toss, or to wander. The sense of “to move about”, and specifically to “go about on foot”, only arose in Middle English. “Wealcan” is a far more attractive concept. I’m off on a wealcan right now.
This first appeared in the Canberra Times on 17 March, 2012