I remember spending an awful lot of time idly paging through my parents' old encyclopedias growing up -- a rather ancient World Book set that was so old I think Harry Truman was still listed as US President, another "newer" set that probably was out of date around 1970.
Flipping through the dusty volumes was a good occasional pastime for a bookworm kid, if I wanted to know about mining bauxite or Greek history or what classification of animal a tapir was, it was the place to go. I was never quite as obsessive as A.J. Jacobs who read every word of the Britannica in his very funny book "The Know-It-All" but it was a place to gather the bits and bobs of the world, which seemed a lot more mysterious then than now. I loved any slightly offbeat reference books, like the wonderfully esoteric "Book Of Lists" series that I read to pieces, or the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, 1982 edition, that I absorbed like a sponge.
When so much information is available so instantly today it's kind of hard to imagine those pre-Wiki days, when you had to hunt to find out things you didn't know. I don't really miss those days too much, practically speaking -- it's fabulous to be able to learn the details of the T. Rex discography from no less than a dozen or so authoritative sources online instantly, just to use one recent example. And as a journalist, the Internet is a reporter's best friend. But there is something sepia-toned and nostalgic about the way so many things we once thought were essential - a set of encyclopedias, a fancy stereo system, a rotary phone - are going away. Bookstores close and I will miss them. I'll miss the encyclopedia, in its clunky analogue way, even if I haven't actually looked at one in probably 20 years.
My childhood in the 1970s will seem as far away to Peter as he comes of age in the 2010s as the Wild West or Civil War. He was only about 4 or so when the phrase "Google it" came into his vocabulary, a true son of the Internet. Dad still has his mountains of books and actual CDs and comic books to reassure himself -- as much as I love my iPad and iPhone and iPods, I am warmed somewhere deep inside by the notion of the physical too, comforted somehow by a full plump bookshelf bristling with titles. It's not the best thing for a guy who works on the internet to admit these days, but I don't quite trust people who haven't any books in their homes.