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So you know about TED talks, right? Those brief lectures given by “thought leaders” in front of people who specialize in “disruption” and “innovation?”

from Wikimedia Commons

Well, TED has a franchise operation called TEDx. If you are able to successfully apply for a TEDx license, and are willing to abide by a great many rules, you can put on your very own TEDx event in your town.

My library did this over the weekend. I organized it, inasmuch as I chose the speakers and laid out the day’s programming. The staging and videorecording were farmed out to a production company that turned our auditorium into a dark, dramatically-lit TV studio.


We had a 12-man production crew, nine speakers, people zooming around talking into headsets, a green room, piles of catered lunch nosh, and a live internet stream. It was kinda nuts.

The talks were on a wide variety of subjects: the power of focus, personal & professional trauma, the quick generation of ideas, life as a secular Muslim in today’s America, composing music for video games, trends in philanthropy, open-source tech in the arts, and how to use innovation in order to spend more time with the kids. I got to see only one talk — too busy dealing with backstage issues. I’ll have to wait until the videos are edited and uploaded to the internet, just like most everyone else.


This past Saturday, as it was coming to light that Cambridge Analytica had used Facebook data from 50 million+ people to help put Donald Trump in the White House, I taught a class called “Internet Self-Defense.”

I told my students — all three of them — that over the past decade most of us have slowly traded our privacy for convenience. I had them use Spokeo to see how easy it would be for an employer or ex-boyfriend to gather vital information about them. I had them use Have I Been Pwned to learn how many of the websites they use have been hacked. Companies have been gathering information about us, selling that information, sharing it with each other, pooling it. And Facebook is the king of such companies.

Every time Facebook gets into trouble, Mark Zuckerberg issues a carefully worded apology and promises greater transparency. This time he went so far as to say: “We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you.”

Zuckerberg is too smart to believe what he’s saying. Facebook doesn’t serve its users — it serves advertisers, to whom Zuck sells user data. That is the entire business model of Facebook. To pretend otherwise is disingenuous in the extreme. He’s basically Frank Purdue in the henhouse, telling future roasters: “If I don’t protect your health, I don’t deserve to feed you.”

Alas, most of the internet runs on the same business model. Google probably knows more about us than Facebook does. But I don’t see Steve Bannon partnering with Google to influence elections, and Google actually provides useful products and services in exchange for our data. Facebook serves up an ugly website with terrible interfaces, and the more you’re on it, the more depressed you’re likely to get. Such a deal!

Years ago, I worked for a library that promised to protect the privacy of its patrons…while simultaneously offering classes that helped people sign up for Facebook. It made me queasy. The library’s stance made about as much sense as Zuckerberg’s. I hope libraries start teaching classes on how to ditch Facebook. After all, it is (gasp) possible to send pictures and messages and links to your friends without Facebook! Let’s put in on the ash heap next to AOL Messenger,, and Richard Nixon.


False Equivalence

I have read that the CEO of YouTube recently compared that video site to a library “because of the sheer amount of video that we have” and “ability for people to learn and look up information.”

This comparison is not quite flawless.

Let’s imagine a library that operated the way YouTube does, shall we?

Most of the materials in this library would be submitted by amateurs. The glossier submissions would come from major media corporations promoting their products. Very few of these submissions would be reviewed for quality or even legality before they were added to the collection. The library would make money by selling ad space around the materials, even inserting advertising at the front of the materials. All the while, this same hypothetical library would be collecting data about its patrons and selling it to the highest bidder. Oh and of course the public, despite supplying most of what made this library’s collection interesting, would own 0% of this library, which would be a profit-seeking enterprise owned by one of the richest corporations in the world.

It would, in other words, be a library without curators, without ethical or factual standards, shoddily catalogued, riddled with commercialism, dedicated to eroding the privacy of its users, and accountable not to those users but to wealthy investors.

A mass of data is not a library, any more than a stack of dictionaries equal a literature.





I just put a new ribbon on my typewriter.


Why are you looking at me that way?

I am old enough to have learned how to write on a typewriter. When computers came around, I wrote many a college paper and newspaper article on plastic keyboards that were not sturdy enough for the raw power of my Smith Corona typing skills. CLACKITY CLACKITY WHACK

These days I am grateful to have two old typewriters in good condition. Manual typewriters, mind you, not one of those electric monstrosities that whirr at you impatiently like a disapproving blender or something. They are ugly and I have no qualm if you’d like to drop them all from a great height on Facebook headquarters.

Knowing how to change a typewriter ribbon makes me feel oddly proud. Gather ’round, kinder, and see how we used to write books when paper was all we had! We all had ink on our fingers, and we LIKED it!

I still like it. If you want to get some writing done, there’s no beating an old Royal or Olympia or Underwood, since it will never distract you with cat videos and breaking news updates.

As famed enthusiast Tom Hanks says, owning a typewriter is like having a personal printing press on your desk. The machine I just fed a new ribbon has been in good working order since at least World War II. All the computers currently in use will be useless  in twenty years. I’m glad to go back to the CLACKITY SMACKITY WHACK.




Eating at Meeting

At my library, Friday morning is the time when we gather around a table in the board room, decide which books to buy, and eat snacks. We librarians take turns providing the edibles. Most bring in an assortment of donuts and crumb cakes from the grocery store, but me? I go berserk in the kitchen.

Over the past three years I have served up homemade yoghurt & granola, panna cotta, cookies, berry cobblers, muffins, chocolate mousse, and other assorted tasty treats. Once I even whipped up a chocolate babka, which was more work than any term paper I’ve ever written, and certainly gave more satisfaction.

Step 1: Eat this. Step 2: Take Lipitor.

The (mostly) ladies of book meeting were astonished to find that a male specimen knew how to cook. I was astonished that they were astonished. Baking is easy! You find a recipe, you do what it says! But not everyone enjoys it. I like making things, especially things that can be made in a short period of time and fill your stomach soon afterward.

This week I have branched out and baked a savory dish to satisfy the colleagues who don’t share my sweet tooth. Behold, the bacon & egg breakfast pie:


Let’s see how many diets I can derail with that recipe.