Before the Internet, there was The Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought. I can't recall exactly when I first became aware of the Fontana. It was quoted in the local newspaper and by people who clearly knew what they were talking about, exhibiting a level of clarity and sophistication that would only be possible with privileged access to a great source of information. For a while, my sole desire was to read this enigmatic book.
It would be a few more years before I could lay my hands on the Fontana. In the early 90s, I managed to purchase a copy of the 80s edition at a used book store for an exorbitant price (lesson learnt: don't let your dealer know how badly you need the fix). It was everything I had hoped for and so much more. A book about everything, that made you feel more intelligent with every page turned. Later, at the dawn of the new millennium, I purchased the updated and revised edition titled The New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought as soon as it was published, and read it, cover to cover, many times.
When I say that the Fontana was a precursor to the Internet, I don't mean that it allowed you to connect to billions of people globally and exchange pictures of cats. What the Fontana contained within its pages was everything that is worth knowing. Everything. Can you believe it? Only a few years after the New Fontana was published, Wikipedia, Google, and a million blogs made this concept seem pointless. Nowadays, it would be challenging to explain to anyone who didn’t experience information scarcity in the pre-Internet era why a single-volume book about everything worth knowing used to be such a valued possession.
Recently, as I began learning how to engage with a new generation of AI-powered tools, I discovered a trick that I keep repeating: "Write an entry in the style of The Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought on the topic of X".