Ten writers for children. All with something to say.

3/31/10

Lichens and the Computer


When it comes to embracing new technology, I can be a bit of a curmudgeon. I don't own a cell phone. I've never sent a text message. And I have yet to Twitter, Tweet, or Chirp, at least not with an electronic gadget in my hand. But even a techno-grump like me has to admit that technology can be a marvelous tool for the writer, even one who prefers to write the first five or six (or nine or ten) drafts of his stories longhand before typing them onto the computer.

I just finished up the final revisions for a new picture book, Minnesota's Hidden Alphabet. Unlike most of my books, this project required a significant amount of research. What a gift it was to have the information portals of the Internet as close as my computer screen. How much does a potato chip weigh? A minute or two of web surfing and I had my answer (two grams). What exactly is a lichen? Whoosh! I was transported to the Royal Alberta Museum in Canada where I found a succinct description (a symbiosis of both fungi and algae).

And it wasn't just impersonal websites that provided me with the data I needed. The Internet connected me with a lepidopterist (butterfly expert) in Iowa who helped me identify a moth, as well as a geologist in northern Minnesota who checked my facts regarding boulder migration. To have tracked down these experts by phone or on foot would have taken me days, if not weeks or months. But with the lightning speed quickness of the Internet, I was able to exchange emails with these specialists and have my answers in a relative blink.

Sure, I still checked out a small mountain of books from my local library. Nothing could match the inspiration I found flipping through the colorful photos of a wildflower identification book that I could hold in my hands. But without the Internet, I might still be trying to track down the coldest recorded temperature in the state (60 degrees below zero at Tower, MN in 1996).

I suppose that young people today take the Internet for granted, just the way I took for granted the dusty World Book Encyclopedia we had when I was growing up (and which I still have, by the way). But I'm old enough to be extremely grateful for the hundreds of hours that this technology saved me. And with all that extra time I've got...I think I'll turn off my computer and go outside to enjoy a gorgeous Minnesota spring afternoon.

5 comments:

Laurie Skiba said...

David, your perspective shows a great balance between recognizing the benefits and limitations of technology. I loved hearing how the Internet connected you with that butterfly expert and afforded you an "up close and personal" berth to your research.

Can't wait to read MINNESOTA'S HIDDEN ALPHABET and benefit from all that research!

Laurie Skiba

Mark said...

Great post, David. I especially enjoyed how you decided to spend the "extra" time afforded you by the ease of using the Internet for research. Enjoy the day!

Edie said...

Very interesting post, David! I loved hearing about the lepidopterist (a new word for me) and you've piqued my interest in reading MINNESOTA'S HIDDEN ALPHABET. Just think--you'd never have met all of our potatoes without the internet.

Lauren said...

I enjoyed this post David-- but I have a very unusual image in my head with the research on "boulder migration"! I too had a dusty set of World Book encyclopedias. I wish I still had it. I might have to visit some day and peruse your set just for nostalgia sake-- especially the ocean pages that are clear showing the different depth of the ocean and its creatures!

David LaRochelle said...

My World Book doesn't have the clear plastic ocean pages, Lauren, but it does have those plastic pages for the human body and frog anatomy, showing the skeletal structure and different internal organs. I was so squeamish as a kid I could never look at those pages because they made me light-headed.

As far as "boulder migration," that simply refers to rocks from Canada being carried to Minnesota by glaciers - though the idea of boulders traveling back and forth could make a could picture book by itself!