OK Computer.

If you have spent very much time at all in front of a computer you will almost certainly have spoken to it at one time or another. I know I do. And I’m not just referring to rhetorical questions like ‘what did you go and do that for’, or ‘why did you have to go and crash right now’.

Talking to a computer is always a one-way conversation these days, but it hasn’t always been that way! Hidden away in some dark recesses of the Ultrapedia Library are stories about computers that could not just talk, but could also walk, run, and even ride horses. I even found a book that told of two computers who ran away together, got married, had a baby, and lived happily ever after.

This is, of course, another example of how the meaning of words change over time. In the nineteenth century a computer was a person – a person who made computations – a human computer. These human computers were employed to ‘figure out’ problems like ‘what angle of elevation must I set my cannon too in order to send a cannonball over yonder hill’, or ‘in what year will Halleys Comet reappear in the night sky’.

However fanciful these examples are, they illustrate very well one of the inherent subtleties of the Ultrapedia Library, namely, that if a word wasn’t in use up to 1923, then it won’t exist in books of that era either. For example, the word ‘telephone‘ will appear in the library because it was invented in the nineteenth century. The word ‘television‘ will not occur in the library because it was not invented until 1925 – two years past the cutoff date for something to be placed in the public domain.

Another of my favourite examples is ‘spice girl‘. If you were to search the Ultrapedia Library hoping to find something about ‘posh’ or ‘baby’ spice you will be sadly disappointed. According to Ultrapedia, a spice girl was generally a native of the ‘spice islands‘ who collected nutmegs for a living.

In other words, if something was only invented or discovered after 1923, then it simply cannot exist in the Ultrapedia Library. I’m sure you get the idea, so if you’re looking for information about ‘playstations’, ‘cellphones’, airliners, motorcades, or any other recent innovations – then I suggest you look elsewhere.