The seat belt sign has gone off and I’ve powered up this iPad just in time for the aircraft to enter the last layer of slight turbulence at the top of the cloud bank.
So apologies for any spellink mistocks. Okay, you know that last bit was made up ‘cos flaming autocorrect wouldn’t really let me type it that way. Although it’s not that infallible, it suggested ‘speaking mistook’.
Anyway, in the time it took me to write that, we’ve entered the glorious place. Calm air and sapphire blue blanket atop a fluffy sheep’s back of white as far as the eye can see. Which should be quite far at 38,000 feet. I could work that out, or let’s be honest, Google the answer. Except for a wonderful irony of the modern world. The great conundrum. Why, when I am in my little metal cocoon proudly demonstrating how far humanity has come in technological leaps and bounds in the 21st Century AD, must I be forced to live like some poor wretch trapped in Life BG?
You remember Life BG. Before Google. When we would be out in the world and come face to face with a question that we didn’t know the answer to. We would look around for assistance. We might ask others close by and get blank looks in return. We would phone a friend; from a call box. Normally we would phone home to our parents who were invariably in, watching TV. We’d ask them in the hope that they knew or at the least they would offer to investigate via their pristine volumes of the World Book or Encyclopaedia Britannica. Pristine still, despite 20 years and many a child’s hand because they were the Holy Grail of books. Every child allowed to explore those mighty works knew the commandments. Thou shalt not turn down a page corner. Thou must never’est break a spine. Thou must definitely’est, on pain of the holy wooden spoon, never ever read it anywhere but at a table and in a referential manner. The occasional gratifying “ohh” or “ahh” was to be annunciated so that Fathers the world over could revel in the good thing they had done when they bought the Encyclopaedias for their offspring.
Once you left home you couldn’t afford your own set but it was something you might aspire to. One day. In BG land. Doubtful you would even think to buy a set now. But back then, they were a thing. A thing to be saved for. Savoured.
Of course those encyclopaedias were technically out of date as soon as they were printed but, if the subject was trigonometry or some other such learned field, you had to hope it would be correct. I mean what’s the chances of the sum of the squares not being hyper-tense (I think that’s right, isn’t it?). If it was a more dynamic subject then Britannica was as likely to be as wrong as our beloved Wikis. Occasionally the high volumes of learning would not have a scooby’s idea of what the answer was. Especially if the question was a bit obscure, like how far away is the horizon when flying at 38000 feet?
On those occasions you might have to go to that beautiful, wonderful, idyllic temple that was the local library. Sigh! I loved my local library. (As an aside and not a plug, my first novel was recently stocked by my hometown library, I have rarely felt so pleased. It was a very, very good moment in life).
But back to the unanswered question and back to the library. I loved it. Always staffed by a kindhearted and wonderfully helpful lady accompanied by her good-cop bad-cop, nastier sidekick who did all the severe shooshing. The world at your fingertips and no real chance of finding the answer to your question as you would be diverted by Caliban tempests, star-crossed lovers, mighty whales, swashbuckling one-eyed pirates, majestic musketeers and stories that were Just-so. With the ability to fit all of Agincourt to an imagination what chance did looking up answers in the reference section really stand?
So the question would go unanswered. Until you met that one friend we all had who knew such obscure things and only then if you remembered to ask them. That was BG. That was life. I suppose mobile phones changed things a little, in that you didn’t have to find a call box and phoning a friend became a catchphrase. But then Google changed it all.
Statistics are there to be scoffed at (and forgotten) but I seem to recall that there are billions of queries being asked of Google per month. Billions. Per month. That’s not a mistype or even a speaking mistook. Who or what answered all those queries before Google, or Yahoo or Ask Jeeves or Bing (well, probably not Bing, let’s keep a semblance of reality) but all the rest? I think the answer is no-one and nothing. I think most of the questions were never pursued. Most of it went unknown. With my horizon problem, I would have wondered about the distance and I would have tried to conjure up a bit of Pythagoras. I would have got a little way and then, stymied by a lack of knowledge, I would have passed it by. The chance for my intellect to be worked out, my knowledge to be increased, lost. Swallowed by ignorance, in its non-pejorative context. What a wonderful new world we live in that I can instantly find out the answer to most things. I can increase my knowledge, work out my intellect and know how far that horizon is.
Except, I can’t. Not at the moment and not for the next three hours. For I am cocooned in a metal tube, hurtling through an upper portion of the atmosphere at hundreds of miles an hour. Lost to me is the mobile phone and the search engine. Lost is my ability to take a peek at Wikipedia. Lost is my comfort blanket of intellectual gratification.
So, what am I to do?
The simplicity of the situation is that I shall do what I did in the BG world. I shall visit my library. A veritable, virtual library without the shooshing. I’ll select from the thousands and thousands of books available to me at the touch of a finger on my iPad. I will be distracted by, and lost in, the worlds conjured. Swept up by their stories, their emotions, their characters and their realities. And when I finish a chapter, when I look up to gaze out my window at the blue glory of high altitude I will know that my horizon is limitless. It’s distance an infinity stretching from a one hundred acre wood to stellar dunes. From mocking bird courtrooms to mocking jay battles. From A to Z. Literally.
Ian Andrew is the author of the alternative history novel A Time To Every Purpose, the detective thrillers Face Value and Flight Path and the Little Book of Silly Rhymes & Odd Verses. All are available in e-book and paperback. Follow him on social media: