Too much of my life is taken up with indexes. If life with technology is a teeter-totter, then my generation stands just above the fulcrum. There are guys with whom I attended college who maintain no internet presence at all. I’ve repeatedly searched for college buddies and come up blank. Those in the decade following mine, if they want to work, have pretty much resigned themselves to tech. Those in the decade before, not so much. What does this have to do with indices? Plenty! You see, in academic publishing, and its consequent research, you need to look stuff up. If you read multiple books on the same topic you’re not likely to be able to pinpoint a page number without an index. You remember you read it here (you think) and so you stick a finger in the back and begin checking out the pages referenced until you (hopefully) find it. That’s the old school way.
I’ve typed my fingers down to the marrow trying to explain to guys my age and older that the average academic no longer uses a print index. Just about everything has been digitized. Although I’m no fan of ebooks (I very seldom read them) looking things up is sure much easier with a searchable PDF. Type in your search term and voila—an easy list of references appears that can be quickly clicked through and checked. And yes, my colleagues, that’s what people are doing these days. I lament the decline in print books. When I set out to write a book I have a physical object in mind. It has pages and a cover. A spine. I am writing a book, not “content” to be “exploited” in “multiple formats.” And yet, the index is really no longer necessary.
The typical academic author whose book is at the production stage fusses greatly over the index. Calmly I explain that indexes are very rarely used. They must have detailed indices, they insist. The thing about teeter-totters is that they move. I have an inner-ear problem. As a child this prevented me from doing the usual playground things like swinging and seesawing and spinning, to different degrees. I still can do none of those things well. My wife and I bought a gliding rocker early in our marriage, that seats two. We quickly learned that I couldn’t rock with her. Indexes, you see, are on one side of that long board. It’s the side on which the heavy weight of time rests. So ponderous is it that the kids on the other side just can’t get it off the ground. And I spend my days over the fulcrum trying to get the two sides to play nice together. Without rocking the thing too much.