Saturday, April 10, 2004

Look it up

Sometimes it's most effective to turn to the book perched in readiness at the corner of your desk.

The research skills of kids today, while vastly augmented through the sheer volume of information at their fingertips, are not so solid in their fundamentals. Part of the problem is attitude: if it's not online it's not worth knowing.

"Look it up," I told my 6-year-old.

"Where?" she asked.

"On the Internet," said my 15-year-old, who was on the couch sending instant messages to my 13-year-old, who was sitting next to her. "That's where you look up everything."

Suddenly I felt sad. The Internet is not where you look up everything. Dictionaries and thesauri and encyclopedias and books on modern usage are where you look up everything. How are you going to stumble upon an illustration of a prickly pear cactus or learn that it has yellow flowers, except by thumbing through a dictionary in search of "prom"?

I have raised three daughters who are reference-book-impaired. They look up everything online and as a result have a tenuous grasp of the finer points of alphabetical order. They are far too easy to beat at Scrabble.

The internet, believe it or not, is not the answer to everything, though it too has a certain kind of logic of order and, well, a web of interconnections that can lead to strange and wonderful journeys.

Still, a print edition of Google would come in handy.

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