30 May 2010

What Your Kids Are Reading - Accelerated Reader

In my next few blogs, I will be giving you some observations about what your kids are reading, from the mechanics of getting children to read to the types of books that seem to most interest them. Knowing what your child is reading is an essential part of knowing what is on his/her mind, knowing what issues are important to him/her, and being able to intelligently discuss what is happening in their lives.

Reading from Accelerated Reader Lists

For those of you whose kids do not attend a school which uses the Accelerated Reader system, you have my hearty congratulations. For the rest of you, read on. I know I risk offending the AR folks and school administration, but from a child's, parent's, or librarian's viewpoint, a more bulky and inefficient system would be hard to find.

Accelerated Reader is a company which sells packages to schools containing tests which your children take after reading from a specified list of books. Schools can buy a large list containing many books or a smaller list containing few, depending on the school's budget for such things. On the up side, overworked (and underpaid) teachers don't have to a) assign every child the same book (which they have read themselves) or b) read every book ever written. I think you can see that the basic idea is sound.

In actual execution, however, the AR list is every librarian's nightmare. First, the schools probably cannot reasonably buy every book, even on a smaller AR list. The list changes, as do the reading preferences of children, almost hourly. Even if the school could buy every book, they cannot buy enough for the hundreds of kids who might want to read it in a school year. The overflow of demand flows onto the public libraries and bookstores. The school posts the AR list on its website (usually) and while children often know this, very few parents do. Attention schools: kids are not taking home the fliers you sent (what a surprise).

A parent comes to me because today, nine days before the end of the school year, they were told that Tommy has a total of seven AR points and needs twenty to move up a grade. Trust me when I say that this is more common than you may think. If parents are members of PTA, they just might be aware of this system, but if it is a single mom who works three jobs to keep a roof over Tommy's head, you will forgive her, I hope, for letting such a detail slip. These are not negligent parents. They are simply broadsided by a system which frankly also frustrates the literature professionals at your library. Tommy's mom has dark circles of fatigue under her eyes and does not need to lose sleep over a somewhat complex system of measuring her child's reading development.

The system works like this: a child reads Book A which is ranked for a certain Book Level/Reading Level and for a number of AR points. The reading levels are meant to guide the child to reading of more and more advanced material; a way of nudging them along a path to better reading. They are given a test after they complete a book. The tests they are given presumably measure the child's comprehension. The AR points seem to be an aggregate requirement for the year. I cannot know, of course, because AR does not communicate it's goals to the public library. Nor do the school systems. Since parents are generally unaware that a list exists and libraries are not routinely given one, it's hard for us to know which books are needed. Searching for an appropriate book can be an ordeal.

The library e-mailed all the schools in the county and city school systems at the beginning of the school year, and received one (1) AR list in return. We scoured the schools' websites and came up with approximately two-thirds of the rest and bookmarked them on the Internet. Of these, about a third or more changed the link to the list, some formatted their lists in a format hard to use, and the rest had no link at all. We have one school which has not updated us with a list since 2000. Until recently, we only had paper copies.

Once we have a list on hand, the scenario is something like this:

Parent comes in with Susie in tow. Susie needs an AR book. Librarian asks, "What is Susie's reading level?" Dad is blank, but Susie may say, "Teacher says I can read anything in the 4.2 to 4.6 level." This is the first dad has heard of it. Younger kids will probably not know their reading level. Librarian says (this time to Susie, of course): "What do you like to read?" Susie shrugs. Librarian says, "I'll tell you what. I will give you what I have of the list in your level, and you take that over to a table and look it over. Write down on this paper five or six books you think you might like, and we'll see if we have them." Fate decrees that, if we are lucky, one of the six are both owned by the library and checked in. Dad then adds: "we were hoping for at least two or three books, because we're going to grandma's and will be gone a week." The entire transaction can take an hour. In the meantime, Susie may or may not like the looks of the books we actually find, dad is well past ready to go home, and little brother has removed the hard drive from a computer.

This system is certainly an intelligent effort to quantify your child's reading progress. It is, however, cumbersome to use and frustrating for the child, the parents, and libraries. In all fairness, AR has a website with a search engine for all the books for which they have tests. Unfortunately, without a specific access code, there is no way to tell from this site which tests your school owns. With luck, AR will make their online database more user friendly. Perhaps, in an effort toward equity it will provide all schools with access to all tests, thereby ending the disenfranchised status of poorer school districts. It would be heartening to have them put the literacy of children before crass commercialism, but that's just me talking crazy. In the event this golden age comes, it will enable librarians to access availability and easily determine whether the book Susie picked up at random is, in fact, on the school's list and in her reading level. Also, it would be nice if AR continued expanding its list of available books, so that no child is forced to read books that don't interest them simply because it's one of the twelve books allowed at their reading level.

To summarize: your child, at least up into middle school, is probably reading from an AR book system, or something similar. If you care about the quality of your child's reading experience, pester the school to make available to you updated and easy-to-use lists. Print out the reading level you are working with, sit with your child and think ahead about the books your child will/can read. You can even reserve books online or by phone at your public library. We will call you and you can buzz by and pick them up quickly and easily. Some libraries even have drive-through windows! If you can't find it in your home library, many libraries belong to consortia and can check around for you (more on that later). Badger your schools into keeping us, your public library, informed. We will be doing the same. Also, campaign for more reading choices for your children.

Hang in there parents. The school really is on your side and so are we. I stand on the assertion that reading well is Job One. Math and science are vital, but it's hard to teach from a textbook that cannot be read.

28 May 2010

Adapt THIS!

Some books have an unfortunate trajectory. It's a paradox. The more famous and classic a work becomes, the more apt it is to be complimented in the sincerest form (flattery, i.e. imitation) until it is complimented almost to a pulpy, sodden death. Here is the route it tends to take: superb book; decent translation of superb book (where applicable); abridgment of book into children's picture book; screenplay of book into movie; new movie of old movie; newest movie starring a kid you've never heard of because you're old enough to have read the book; soundtrack and score of newest movie; book of the movie adaptation; graphic novel of the book of the movie adaptation; action figures of the, etc. etc., and Mad Magazine satire. Not necessarily in that order.

It doesn't matter that the original was a masterpiece of sweeping and timeless prose, with language so beautiful it made you weep, encompassing vast epochs of time, and introducing complex and fascinating characters. Now it is compressed into a two and a half hour synopsis, using unintelligible grunts by an anti-hero with six-pack abs and a smallish intellect. Later, our hero becomes beefier still, and manages the entire story in comic book brevity, no longer audible, he must speak using text bubbles. At length, he is plastic and doesn't speak at all, unless your five-year-old becomes his voice. He does, however, get the said five-year-old to eat his hamburger. Finally, in an ironic but inevitable turn of events, he is parodied in a number of low-rent films, sit-coms and spin offs until it is obvious that the public is so super-saturated with the story that they refuse to hand over another nickle. That, unfortunately, takes awhile.

The good news is that you can exact a final revenge. You can go check out the book! (Don't buy it - the author's long dead anyway, and there's no point making some current copyright holder rich on the author's genius. Besides, we're fighting against the big commercial machine, remember?) Be sure to get the unabridged original. Revel in the language, spend some time with those compelling characters. Thumb your nose at the establishment! Stand up and be counted, true readers of the world! Shout from the rooftops "Give a hoot! Don't dilute!"...

Oops. I've gotten carried away again. Okay, so go see the movie, too. But just recite these words after me: "The book is always better. The book is always better."

26 May 2010

Tell Me a Story

Every year, many libraries hold storytelling festivals. It seems an intuitive thing to do. We are all about stories.

Our storytelling festival is, in our modest opinion, a rare and remarkable treat. We have prominent and gifted storytellers from across the country come to spin yarns and sit a spell. The turnout is good, and the attendees leave satisfied. Why this should be so in this age of instant communication and global sophistication is an interesting question. Wouldn't you think we would be too "all that" to sit around hearing tall tales and home-spun lore?

Storytelling is a cultural narrative. It is legend and myth, often without much fact, but a thread of truth. California has its Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. Quebec has its Paul Bunyan. Virtually every culture has its stories, and those, for the vast majority of recorded history, were verbally handed down. Its not oral history, except in the most tangential way. It is entertainment, regional flavor and a way of sharing a common bond. It's not all hill-country folkism. New York urbanites have their stories, too.

So how is storytelling different from reading aloud? We have events which include storytimes which are pretty darn impressive. For example, last memorial day we had soldiers come to read to the kids. These guys picked their very favorite book, and read with style and gusto. They took the task very seriously. The kids were smitten, and soldiers had adoring children holding onto hands and pant's legs.

At our recent multicultural festival, we had native speakers from 14 different cultures who read the same book to the crowd in their own language. It was a smashing success. Why would libraries go to the trouble and expense of hiring children's programmers whose programs revolve around storytimes, if a vocal rendition of a book was not considered a high priority? It introduces children to reading and it brings personality to the written word. It makes the sharing of a book an Important Event. The subtle difference between storytime and storytelling has more to do with the telling.

Like books, storytellers bring us ideas, cultures, hopes, humor and the common experience. But theirs is an art of performance and transience. Their method does not depend on a written volume. They convey fine points of a culture in a way that books cannot: they include mannerism, accent, expression, eye contact and gesture in a more pointed delivery. Storytellers are wind-borne carriers of culture - words that remain after the page is gone. The storyteller doesn't just communicate the story, they become the story.

I have, on a couple of occasions, admired a work of chalk pavement art. It is a beautiful work of planning, design, effort and skill. Part of what makes it impressive is knowing that the pleasure is in the now: rain will come, feet will tread, and the ephemeral offering is swept away. You may be tempted to ask "What is the point?" The sidewalk art was meant for you, now - today: a message to you, personally. Books are meant for the impersonal many. Storytelling is for the personal few.

25 May 2010

Save the Last Dance for Me

Nervous that libraries may cease to exist? Your response probably says a lot about you. Pragmatic? Liberal? Socialist? Anarchist? Intellectual? Old? Young? Poor? Rich? There are all kinds of world views, but, interestingly enough these are not the defining pivot-point in the library debate. It comes down to one distinction: reader or watcher? Do you use your mind to form words into a visual picture, or do you prefer a display or program to do it for you? Do you have the ability to weave a rich and enjoyable experience from text, or do you require the aid of a mechanical interpreter? Do you have a workable imagination or do you need a mediator to augment it or supply one for you?

There is one compelling reason why libraries must continue to exist. Of all the arguments only this one matters: we must be able to think for ourselves.

What's that, you say? Why, the internet is the most democratic medium on earth. It allows anyone to speak their mind and all the world can listen. It allows any opinion to find a forum and any group to be represented. That is, assuming they have a device and the internet and the know-how to use all of that. And assuming that the browser you use to search for such messages remains impartial, pure and disinterested. And assuming that governments don't begin to monitor and mediate such messages. (Oops, sorry. Too late.) And disregarding, for a moment, the dictatorship of the trend, in which might makes right.

Perhaps even more risky, and certainly more current is the sub-idea that we must be able to think (at all). Not optically follow images, or achieve a high-level Pavlovian response to electronic stimulus. I read an article recently which reported that scientists are discovering that people exercise their brains more when they browse the web than when they read a book. I find that I exercise my jaw muscles more when I eat caramels than when I eat cooked carrots. I wonder if there is a correlation? It must mean caramels are healthier! Hmmm.... Because your brain is more stimulated by three loci of stimuli at once neither confirms that it is beneficial or that it results in an enhanced ability to think. It just means that more neurons are firing. Undoubtedly good exercise, but let's be careful about a conclusion. (Nevertheless, if it helps prevent Alzheimer's, I am on board.)

Every avenue of learning and experience has its place, of course. I enjoy having the internet, but will state for the record that my ability to think has enhanced my internet experience, but the internet did not teach me to think. Working as a reference librarian, I can tell you that getting something out of the WWW is a function of what you are able to put in in thought and method.

OK, so the internet doesn't teach you to think or imagine. Cheer up! In our library we have about fifty public computers which stay busy from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays and slightly shorter hours on weekends. Constantly. So if you are struggling with the library-as-a-valued-public-service debate, come use our place while you consider. And if the power goes out we have books! magazines! newspapers! (While they still exist.) And backup generators. Having a comfy building with comfy sofas in which to build ideas, a bricks and mortar structure which actually exists and has live people in it is a bonus. And okay, so you checked out Twilight three times; it was a lapse in judgment. Your secret is safe with us. See if you get that on the internet.


I attended a conference session in which the presenter used the tech expression WYSIWYG (pronounced wizzywig). What You See Is What You Get. It is a term that means that what you see on the screen is essentially what you will see when a document or project is printed or published. How relevant that idea is in the world of books! Remember (of course you do) the old saying, "You can't judge a book by its cover?" We most often use it when speaking of people, and in this it may be as true as ever. But in books? Not so fast.

Think about it: how did you choose your last book? We've talked about this - you received a recommendation from a friend; you read a book review; or you walked around a room full of books, either the library or a bookstore, and chose the one that caught your interest. Caught it how? Usually one of three ways: you were browsing in a specialized section such as architecture or mystery. Or, you liked the snappy title: Captain Underpants and the attack of the Talking Toilets. Or you were intrigued by the cover. (Romance readers out there, who do you think you're kidding?)

How important is cover illustration? Think about a recent purchase, the one where the cover caught your eye. Do you feel the cover represented a promise of what was inside? If so, was that promise fulfilled or disappointed? If you bought a book because the cover suggested a compelling or exciting story, and the story was a dreadful loss, do you feel cheated? Along this same line, is it possible for a cover to over sell its book? Do you think that the cover predisposes you to interpret a book a certain way? It is best to remember that covers can lie.

I recently attended a workshop by a successful children's author. She was absolutely delightful, with a witty humor and a real sense of what kids enjoy. I felt bad that many of her early books were (in my opinion) so poorly illustrated. Her most recent effort was being illustrated by an excellent and proven illustrator whose name you would likely recognize if you have much acquaintance with "kid lit." This author has won awards for her writing, apparently in spite of weak illustration, so my thesis may be faulty, but I still can't help but think that this newest book will be a bigger commercial success.

Remember library edition books - the ones with those boring (but sturdy) green, black, brown or burgundy plain cover bindings. They were called "library bindings" and were meant to serve as the rough equivalent of the dreaded orthopedic shoe. They were not attractive, but were able to take a lot of wear and tear. You don't see those bindings very often nowadays, and you can bet it was a market decision. Don't believe me? What company's illustration are you apt to see on your volume of Cinderella? In our modern hyper-visual society, books with flat, boring, unillustrated covers do not circulate or sell.

This being the case, you can be assured that a great deal of effort and expense has gone into the visual signature of successful books. These days, an ambitious books does not rely solely on a marketing drive, or a book-signing tour, or a series of author talks to make it's way in the world. It advertises itself: flashy, picturesque, iconic, graphic. Each cover is a seduction. Se-ducere - to lead aside (or astray). Cover art, like other temptations, is meant to be enticing.

So cruise the stacks. Be tempted. After all, the cover art is half the fun. But remember to keep a cool head: you can't always judge a book by its cover.

19 May 2010

What's the Good Word?

I love words. American English is rich with words for almost any conceivable thought, it seems. We embrace other cultures' words and expressions and adapt and adopt them as our own, making our language as rich, beautiful and varied a tapestry as our human population. We have Americanized our root British English until the Brits hardly recognize it. In addition, each generation gives old words new meanings, or creates all new words to express new ideas. We are wealthy with words.

There are scholars who can express ideas clearly and make their knowledge accessible to readers. There are entertainers whose choice of words make us laugh or cry or think. We are won with words, and words inspire us. We get caught up in a movie when the dialogue seems real to us. We remember the words of songs which express an emotion in a pure and pleasant way. We keep love letters near our hearts.

This is why I am appalled by the trend, currently, in the use of vulgar expression as a place-holder for the well chosen word. What happens to language when even intelligent people are content to string immodest and shocking language together for effect rather than use an appropriate word or set of words? We hold responsible jobs, love our families, are good citizens, and contribute to good causes, but our speech and humor is digressed to a place where we snicker over mentions of bodily functions and sexual organs. Didn't we outgrow that in grade school? Isn't this where the words sophomoric, adolescent, and juvenile received their negative connotations? Children innocently (and nervously) giggle over such because it is provocative and personal territory. Presumably we learn to treat such topics maturely and sensitively as we grow up. Or not.

I listened to an audiobook recently on a road trip that was a case in point. The piece was meant as a humorous summary view of American Democracy. It was basically intelligent and witty. It would have been a more enjoyable light commentary on the foibles of modern government, except that the author inserted the occasional asides that were so gratingly vulgar (and unnecessary) that I cringed at the sound of them, and subsequently found myself dreading the next one. Why was this necessary? A society which encourages a shorthand use of shock to replace truly well-thought out and clever language has sold itself cheaply. It replaces the need for talent with a lazier, sloppier lacing together of shock words to garner cheap laughs.

From humor the habit descends further. Serious works of fiction have characters use expletive language to set a tone of toughness, or to indicate forcefulness of emotion. Admittedly on occasion, the character portrayed is meant to be as mean and vulgar as the language indicates. If this is clearly the case, some allowance may be made. After all, the language should match the character. My objection here is that generally decent or well-educated or intelligent characters seem to use the same shorthand of expression. What is the point of that?

There is a danger, as with colloquial language in general, of using the same five or six words to express all manner of thought and emotion. We become less clear, we strain our listeners, and we fail to communicate real feelings. How often have we wriggled in our seats as a speaker uses such verbal place-holders as uh, um, dude, man, like, so, among others, in a public address? We silently judge the speaker's ability and experience based on such labored delivery. I find reliance on the limited vocabulary of vulgarities similarly tedious.

When the five or six words are meant to be vulgar - were developed with no other object in mind but to startle or shock - the purpose in their use becomes obvious. The speaker (or writer) prefers to be offensive. When we accept such offense, when we laugh or praise such writing and speech, we perpetuate the practice. Perhaps we are afraid to appear unsophisticated, prudish or naive. In such cases, the word-bullies win: we have allowed users of profane or shocking speech to dictate the quality of communication for us all.

In formal address, in published writing, in conversation at the water cooler, harsh and unimaginative profanity has become more and more prevalent, more and more accepted. Let's stop allowing ourselves to be verbally battered by the few who cannot rise to civilized speech.

Our ears will thank us. And so, by the way, will our children's.

14 May 2010

What's Gnu?

I fancy myself a discriminating reader. To earn a designation as a favored author, your book must grab me from page one. I hate the formulaic, the predictable, or the bland. Which makes me, philosophically speaking, eligible to be President of the Sandra Boynton fanclub.

Surprised? Oh, yes - I mean the dancing hippos Sandra Boynton: the singing chickens, chanting piggies, train-drivin' dog Sandra Boynton. Her work, described on her website as a "jaunty confibulation of exuberant irrelevance," is uncomplicatedly joyful.

I am a grown-up (by most measures), and you may be wondering how it is that a children's book author tops my list. I could defend myself by reminding my readers that I am a children's librarian. However, I became a true fan long before. I worked in a mildly pretentious bookstore when I came across Grunt: Pigorian Chant (1996). My seriously over-serious friend and I sneaked it onto the store stereo, and as we followed along in the book, we laughed until we cried. It was a measure of the quirky good fun, that my classical-musician colleague was as completely tickled as I was. Let me note for non-Boyntonites that no one else in the store appeared the wiser and probably could not understand why we were laughing like loons. The music was impeccable Gregorian Chant, beautifully done. Combined with the hilarious text/context, it gained something, as they say, in the translation. Pig Latin, with chicken antiphon.

The music-book combos are my favorites, with high-quality music and Boynton's superbly silly text and illustration. Such illustrious artists as B.B. King, Neil Sedaka, Davy Jones, Allison Krauss and the Spin Doctors collaborate in these delightful frolics. However, you can indulge in a range of books and products featuring the cheerful humor and fetching visual simplicity of Boynton's buoyant barnyard herd.

Your kids will love the silly situations and the consistently uplifting tone of the these enchanting books. I bet they won't be the only ones laughing and singing.

13 May 2010

Let's get to the bottom line

We are 5 days and counting to the primary elections here. It's a good thing, too, because much more campaign literature and I will have to move out of my house. As it is, my small mailbox is stuffed every day.

These are not little informational brochures, with black text on pastel colored newsprint. They are full color glossy card stock. And I am a little offended by them.

I like to think of myself as a true patriot. I love the democratic process, even when it's messy. I like to think that being a child of the war-protest era engendered a particularly poignant and intense love of this country and this system. I can even appreciate the candidates' effort to make me informed and I am active in the process. I just think there needs to be a better way to go about this.

Campaign literature falls short for me on several counts. First, it is too brief to be useful. If you really want me to be informed, refer me to your website and impartial sources where I can get a better picture of you. It's okay to give me short salient points. I am pretty sure you are only giving me the best stuff, and I am not sure that is helpful when forming an opinion about you. But also know that I want (and will seek) more, shall we say, balanced information.

Second, I am not sure I need to see your picture. If the ballot had your picture, I could see the marketing aspect of this. But the fact that you are attractive or ugly, fat or thin, young or old does not mean anything to me. Save the space for more of the relevant issues.

Third, let's at least try not to kill the environment with your excessive mailings - I have received at least three from some candidates. In this same vein, don't give me slick and glossy - it makes you look like you're trying too hard. And you know that those inks and finishes are going into a landfill sooner or later. Very often sooner. Conservative is better - recycled paper, single process ink, preferably soy based or organic. No gloss: it makes me not trust you.

Don't overstate your case. Calmly and briefly tell me what you WILL do and if there is any chance you can't do it and are just fishing for my vote, don't bother writing it down. I want substance - what have you done that may be of interest overall? I don't care that you put that new flower bed in at the courthouse. Especially if there are homeless people living in the underpass down the road.

Don't assume because I am registered in your party that I a) feel obliged to vote for you, b) agree with the party's platform, or c) need you to think for me or make decisions on issues for me in this election. If this makes me suspect to the "party faithful," tough.

I had a few local candidates come to my door. I actually like that process, especially if candidates are willing to answer a few questions while they are there. I know the issues and can ask some tough questions, so staying to chat will at least tell me you are brave. It will not guarantee you my vote, since I know that somewhere in the city all the other candidates are stumping too. Anyone who isn't certainly won't get my vote. If you can't put forth the effort to meet your constituency face-to-face, or if you cannot arrange your life in such a way to find out what your district needs, don't run. Don't think sending me a postcard is enough.

In summary, if you must contact me by mail be environmentally responsible. Don't lie. Don't assume I am a sheep. Don't bother with glitz and hold the photos of yourself (and your family - I will assume somebody loves you, and that will save us both time). Give me straight facts, because I will know - don't make me catch you being insincere. Oh, yeah - and if you're using your franking privilege to campaign, shame, shame on you.

Okay, so impress me. I'm waiting.

09 May 2010

Brave New World

I am reading Googled:The End of the World as we Know It (Ken Auletta, 2009), and I find I am in turn fascinated and appalled, impressed and alarmed. To begin with, I am not quite sure how to take the title: is it supposed to be sinister? Or is it meant to be a practical statement of the fact that life changes, has changed? I guess I am precisely the generation to which this question must inevitably arise, if one thinks about such things at all. Older than me, and the use of the internet is somewhat limited and abstract. Younger than me, and it is taken for granted, much like expressways, ATMs, cell phones. (Yes, kids, there was actually a time when you drove south to Florida on a two lane road. I remember taking my passbook into the bank and having a land-line phone on a party line. Heaven help me.)

I realize (with a little jolt) that I am the swing generation, the pivot in time. Not the kids who speak Internet fluently, almost as a native language. I know that Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are about the ages of my kids. But their world changing concepts changed my world, not theirs. Whatever their college experience, they did not fully function in a pre-Google world. They grew up in cyberia.

My generation was, for good or bad, in the driver's seat in the 90s. Look around at the societal infrastructure of the time: my generation peopled the government, ran the multinational corporations, controlled (perhaps in a less-than-desirable way) media, communications, utilites. We were band-parents and active in the PTA. Here's the interesting/ironic part: we were the 60s flower-children, the freethinkers, the color outside the lines folks. It's our kids who took the notion to a dimension we would never have imagined. And however liberal we had become over the make-love-not-war heyday, we are playing big-time catch up in this dizzying new world.

Google is a little like the new drug that can clear up your toenail fungus, but could also harden your liver like a marble and cause it to fall out. There is great good to be had, but at what price? We can have every scrap of science, history, art, pure knowledge and the wide world at our fingertips. Exhilarating! But can't Google lie? We will also have pornography, drivel, misinformation. What do we do if the grid goes down and all our eggs are in this cyber-basket?

Are we okay with having our every keystroke followed, every purchase noted, every browse analyzed, watched and stored? It's worth pointing out that your bank account is online even if you never are. Will we hand our brains (and our finances) over to the monolith, like sacrificial virgins? If you haven't, read 1984 (George Orwell, 1949) and Brave New World (Aldous Huxley, 1946). Think about what it means to consolidate all information in one powerful source.

Just before you conclude that I am anti-Google, let me note for the record that I am a realist and I truly do see it as useful. This is new technology as was the telephone, the car, the airplane, electricity. Each seemed unnatural in its time, but we take each as the blessing of its potential. We recognize that each has its drawbacks: survey-takers at dinner, air pollution and traffic jams, volcano delays, fire. All are dangerous when mishandled. We accept some risk not because we are willing to trade danger for convenience, but because we see the inevitability of progress and we expect that we must adapt. So it is with this new technology. We accept that with much good comes much responsibility. It is good to remember that even online, not all that glitters is gold.

So, drive carefully, soberly. Be alert and watch the signposts. Know the road ahead. And for goodness sakes, know when to use your brakes.

And may you see wonderful things along the way.