Ready Player One: a Sci-Fi Virtual World Futuristic Novel

Cline, E. (2011). Ready player one. New York: Crown Publishers.


What a romp! With tons of references to 80s culture and the historical background of videogames, Ernest Cline’s READY PLAYER ONE captures the feeling of virtual reality. Anyone who has spent time in virtual worlds as an avatar will easily envision Parzival (Wade Watts) and cheer him on his quest for Halliday’s egg through virtual and physical peril. The novel will soon be seen on the big screen, with the screenwriter for the Xmen at the helm.

Young adult readers will appreciate the theme of collaborative teamwork as Parzival’s friends outwit the corporate geeks called “the Sixers”. Some of the futuristic innovations, such as the flicksync (where a player is inside a simulation of a movie) or the simulation of specific towns and buildings may be not that far away with virtual reality applications like Oculus Rift.

Yet these same tech savvy young people may get a warning about the openness of digital life and digital footprints. When Parzival enters a high level of the game, his friends begin giving him tips for his maneuvers. He interrupts with, “How could you possibly know all this?”
“Because we can see them,” Shoto said. “Everyone logged into the OASIS right now can see them. They can see you, too.” Cline, 2011 p354

Live videofeed and live simultaneous virtual experiences are already a part of our lives. The setting for READY PLAYER ONE puts us in a future where more of life is spent in virtual space than in physical space and most people prefer it that way. The year is 2044. Only time will tell. Meanwhile, young people are rushing toward life in digital culture and some of us (even those of us with experience in virtual worlds) hope an appreciation for the beauty of this physical earth lives on. It’s enough to make me want to “go green!”

Information Literacy in Minecraft

The library as a makerspace is really nothing new! Students have been building and creating in libraries for as long as I can remember. But, today there are new digital tools that provide exciting opportunities for creativity. Instead of simply reading about a topic (not that reading isn’t awesome), students can enter virtual spaces together to learn and interact with content.

For example, 5th grade students in my school library are embedding digital citizenship (an important concern for 21st century learners) into a virtual environment in Minecraft. The project is entirely designed and built by the students and includes a library with other buildings and spaces for hiding clues. Younger students will enter the game, search for clues and answer questions to earn their digital citizen award. The students’ roles include game designer, project manager, coder “red stone electrician”, builders, writers, and testers.


Why Minecraft? View the slides below for some background on how information literacy is changing and how students can create in new ways.

The Ethridge Minecraft Club met after school in the Ethridge library. Younger students will soon be challenged to earn digital citizenship by entering the Ethridge Minecraft Digital Citizenship Game.

(Pictured from left to right: Travis, Emmanuel, Matthew, Julian, Drew, George, Annabelle, Ella, and Dr. Hill)

Information Infatuation: Big Data is Big Daddy

The concept of algorithms providing us all with instant information access is fairly common since we all rely daily on Google. For the past few years, I have come across predictions about Big Data changing our lives from experts in the field of information technology, such as The Horizon Report.

I just finished reading Big Data by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier which provided an overview of the pros and cons of our “continuing infatuation with data” (Wall Street Journal). My biggest take-away is a phrase which was repeated throughout the book– we are no longer seeking causation as much as correlation. In other words, it doesn’t really matter why things are a certain way — just what they are! As an information professional I am struggling with that statement and several other ideas in Big Data.


Anyone who has ordered books through Amazon realizes that “Amazon knows what I like!” Recommendations for titles through Amazon can be amazing and enlightening. So too, other sales companies can access our preferences and bring just what we want to us –instead of making us search for things. On a snow day (teachers love those!), I spent some time searching for a pair boots. Shortly after that, I noticed boots kept coming up on my web searches on many different computers. Google, Amazon, Zappos, and all the web companies are already utilized big data and collecting our personal preferences. This can be a time-saving convenience.

Consequences & Disadvantages

The authors of Big Data are concerned that algorithms can predict behaviors. An example is the father who was shocked that a company was sending his teenage daughter coupons for diapers and baby products only to find out that she was indeed expecting a baby! The company had access to big data before the girl’s father was told. These predictions might also be shared with law enforcement agencies to give them a “heads up” about potential criminals. This raises questions about privacy because a person cannot be arrested for a crime that has not yet been committed.

Big data is changing mathematical statistics and may bring about the “demise of the expert” (page 139). One human being’s intuition and a lifetime of wisdom cannot compete with millions of algorithms. In fact, the idea that correlation is more important than causation could bring (in the words of the authors) the end of theory (page 70). We live in an age that values convenience more than quality and “settling for good enough” trumps our “obsessing over accuracy” (page 191). The authors believe that “big data is transforming many aspects of our lives and ways of thinking” (page 192).

As a librarian, I value personal privacy and respect for intellectual freedom. When I read about eBooks capturing massive amounts of data on readers’ preferences- how long they spend on a page and how they highlight or take notes in a book (page 114), I was appalled at how readily we give up our privacy as readers. I don’t think the average person realizes that big data has already taken much of our privacy away.

Mayer-Schonberger & Cukier state, “If big data teaches us anything, it is that just acting better, making improvements–without deeper understanding–is often good enough”. This clashes with my educator’s philosophy and pedalogical paradigm of critical thinking and information literacy. “Good enough” is not the goal in education. The goal is excellence. Perhaps this book is slanted toward commercial business rather than education, but the changes big data will bring are on a global scale and impact all fields.

Because my research has been in virtual worlds and because education is rapidly integrating technology at all age levels, I am concerned about big data’s role in participatory global digital culture (where my students now live). The authors of Big Data believe “What we are able to collect and process will always be just a tiny fraction of the information that exists in the world. It can only be a simulacrum of reality, like the shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave”. Virtual worlds can and must provide high quality “simulacrum” and settling for less is not something I am willing to hold as acceptable. Weeding out the millions of data hits that are “not so desirable” is the challenge of information literacy each of us now faces.

Mayer-Schonberger, V. and Kenneth Cukier(2013). Big Data. New York: W.W. Mariner.

In Awe of the Stacks

(Comparing Twitter to the Library Shelves)


Tweet are serendipitous and I am reminded of walking through the library stacks as a young girl.


What is all of this?  How amazing!



But there is a difference-





The library stalks were part of a carefully selected collection….curated (planted by a trained gardener and carefully weeded).



Things have changed. The gardener or “the gatekeeper” no longer keeps out the weeds and pests.

There are tons of weeds and pests online. It is increasingly difficult to find the cream of the crop- the authentic, aesthetically pleasing, accurate information that helps individuals learn and grow toward knowledge and wisdom in the 21st century.


I am not in awe of these stacks.



But, I know I can still learn and be in awe of the people in my PLN.  Yes, just like the stacks…tweets are serendipitous.  Those I follow will lead toward what I need to learn.


I must learn to garden for myself.


Photos labeled for reuse with creativecommons licensing.

Nudging the 5 year old and the 65 year old

Today I helped a kindergartener and a 65 year old do the same thing: find what they wanted to do on their iPad.


The five year old kindergartener wanted “Big Cat’s” microphone to record his voice (on a child’s app) and it wasn’t working.
The 65 year old wanted to share a Facebook post to specific friends on his iPad FB account.

Both the 5 year old and the 65 year old sat beside me (one during school hours and one after school) with their ipads on a day which was overwhelmingly spent solving iPad issues. Some of the issues I encountered were update needs, restriction issues, apps not working, wifi settings wrong, locked-out passcodes, and numerous emails about iPads. Tech issues with iPads has overtaken my job as a school librarian. But that is not the point here.

I sat beside two individuals today who are 60 years apart in age. I had the same feeling, as I sat with both of them. I felt a sense of “please help” and I felt a sense of “this is so important to me”.

Who am I to judge their information literacy needs?

Well, actually, I am an information literacy specialist. So, I suppose this is the topic I could write on for hours; however, information literacy is rapidly changing as we move into digital culture- whether at age 5 or 65.

Shall we play a game? Share a youtube video? Shall we critically evaluate our information intake with meaningful purpose using best research practices?

Learning….the quest for life.

Caring for the individual….where they are in life.

I shall remember doing what my colleague, Kristin Fontichiaro, would call “nudging toward inquiry.”

Post-Modern Me

I keep running into the term post-modernism and I think it applies to us all.  Life as a 21st century educator (building a PLN, participating in Web 2.0, and constantly striving toward best practices of learning in global participatory digital culture) is a fascinating, yet paradoxical adventure. We now live in an era of metaliteracy, metadata, and perhaps “metalife”.   We no longer plant, harvest, and cook our food, like The Little Red Hen, because we enjoy our modern conveniences.  Yet, we are busier than ever “growing” our networks and “creating/curating” our content.


What powerful tools we have to connect on a global scale!  I have colleagues in Greece, Australia, Great Britain and all over the globe.  Some have actual met me physically and some have not.  Does it matter?  In a long ago era (think prior to the Internet), it mattered.  To meet someone meant to look into their eyes, to see the lines of age and experience or the wide-eyed innocence of youth.  That meeting was the opportunity to get a sense of one’s physical presence.  But today, perhaps the digital presence supercedes the physical one.  As digital devices have become top priority for communication, our metaselves have become “us”.  I don’t mean to sound like a dark futurist or a stuffy academic philosopher.  Maybe I am just a rambling librarian who wants to hang onto something physical like a book (and you can read tons of articles about why you would want to!  Ebooks are never really owned- only licensed temporarily).


What is interesting is how we pick and choose our personal/professional learning networks (or our online communities for those outside of education) as though we are critically evaluating people as data.  A century ago, the number of people we encountered, whether brilliant, annoying, or comical, was limited.  Today, we have a flood of information and a flood participants in our incoming stream of networked applications. Today, we can not only curate and critically evaluate information topics, we can curate the people who share the content.


I do think we need to remember one thing.  People are more important than data.  Behind these words, your words, your online curation, your tweets, and behind every keyboard- is a person.  A living person is more than algorithms of interests, more than big data.  Maybe, if I take a break and breathe deeply, I will allow serendipity to occur and life to be simply lived.  To be alive is miraculous and the funny thing is… just when I think I am grasping the concept of post-modernism- I learn that post-modernism is over.  We are entering post– post-modernism.  That doesn’t scare me.  I am getting used to not understanding life.



Zings, smiles, and frowns: The Circle (a reflective review)

The idea of participation (expressing our own opinions and sharing our perspectives) is highly regarded in global digital culture.  For the past decade, I have felt uneasy about this “over sharing” of personal life and the blurry line that now exists for most of us– the line between our personal and professional lives.  This blog is full of reflection on that personal/professional journey, a journey from the traditional role of a librarian in a “physical world” to an information literacy professional in a virtual world (where we all now live whether we have avatars or not).

Social Media compels you to JOIN and SHARE

It is no secret that I really “dislike” Facebook.  (Note: these views are my own and not the views of my employer which is stated in the fine print of this blog somewhere.) The disadvantages have always outweighed the advantages for me.  Yet, as webmaster/social media person for my school, I am required to maintain the social media sites currently used: both Facebook and Twitter as well as the school website, apps, and many accounts currently popular.  All information professionals surely understand that social media in networked culture must be utilized today because user-generated content and content curation through social media are the main channels of communication.  We all realize that the traditional hierarchy of information has toppled.

The additional responsibility of social media person has been a fascinating, perhaps unsettling experience.  I used the word “uneasy” earlier to express this feeling.  This week, while reading Dave Eggers novel The Circle, that uneasy feeling was expressed through a frightening vision of a future where personal privacy no longer exists and networked community (sharing is caring) becomes more important than anything else.


My professional journey required me to create an online identity.  The role of the “physical librarian in a physical room of physical books” is over.  I saw it coming a decade ago and I moved on ahead.  I consider myself a virtual pioneer and I realize I have created digital footprints.  Now, my students and my grandchild (just a baby) also have digital footprints because they have been born into global participatory digital culture.

This transition from physical to digital culture happened very quickly.  Most people have not considered the consequences.  I recently had a conversation about social media and mentioned some of my concerns with Facebook.  My colleague said, “I just don’t take it that seriously.”  For those who consider social networks simply a fun, light-hearted experience, The Circle may be interpreted as complete fantasy.  For those mandated to use social media for professional reasons, the book is downright scary.

The Circle (a novel by Dave Eggars)

The Circle is a thought provoking novel set in a dystopian future where social media has crossed the line. The word that stood out to me in Eggars novel, is transparency. I chose to be transparent online (never anonymous) because I use the Internet as an information professional.  My personal life has nothing to do with what I post online.  Yet, as an information professional using online communication tools, I saw myself in The Circle.

What do we do when we wake up each day?  We check our smart phones for “zings” and tweets and posts and messages and emails and follows and links and scoops and updates and on and on.  The media constantly tells us “your input is important”.  “We want to hear from you!”  We want your zings, your smiles, your frowns.

My heart tells me to unplug.  I value individual privacy. Yet, I live in global participatory digital culture as an information professional.  My students and my own grandchild are plugged in.


I shall persevere.



The Once and Future Quest for Learning

The model for knowledge in the past was acquisition, mastery, and then mentoring or teaching others.  Today, I admit I am acquiring and sharing faster than I can master or even contemplate the material I encounter on Twitter, Scoop-it, and other online curation spaces. As I find resources on topics of personal interest (and I am focusing on educational content mostly in relation to information literacy), I gather and share but never have enough time to fully reflect on my learning.

In other words, I am teaching faster than I am learning.

I am turning into Merlin. (He lived his life backwards.)














My concept of linear time has changed in relation to my learning.  Was it an allusion that once upon a time I could fully grasp a concept?

I hope we can all catch up to what we once knew someday.



Photo from wikimedia

In Praise of Gatekeepers


Now that we live in 21st century “participatory” digital culture, daily life begins (for most of us) with logging in to our digital devices.  I float amongst phone, tablet, laptop, and desktop throughout the day whether at home, on the go, or in the library where I work. We live with a constant stream of incoming information, a blur of personal and professional content flooding the many accounts we juggle (emails, social media, content curation, and apps galore).

A decade ago, I ran into Michael Wesch’s Information R/evolution at the exact time I was personally experiencing my role as a librarian turned upside down due to the toppling of the information hierarchy. During that year or so, I began devouring new media formats and began my exploration of virtual worlds as a mode of communication and education for the future.  As a school librarian, I could imagine the floor of my library shaking under my feet because I knew nothing would ever be the same: ebooks, apps, and user-generated content were about to explode.  And they did. 

For over a decade, I have spent my life exploring and examining the evolution of information literacy. Today, I revisited Wesch’s video because I remembered his closing line stating, “the responsibility is on us. Are we ready?”  I don’t really believe many people were/are ready.  In fact, I am starting to think perhaps the role of gatekeepers was not all bad.  So, I googled “Michael Wesch” and “gatekeepers” which led me to his digital ethnography class and his presentation to the Library of Congress on the topic of researching Youtube. The ability to share our lives across the globe has created a networked culture and a personal responsibility for consumption and production of media.

This exemplifies my point because in the days before the toppled hierarchy, one could have a critical inquiry and set a course toward a satisfactory resolution- either an answer, an expert,or a realization that the question has been contemplated and unresolved for centuries.  Today, without gatekeepers, there is no resolution to our questions as the path never ends.  There is simply a constant hyperlinked unending quest with flashing neon lights compelling us to take a turn.  The default setting of our minds is the state of distraction.

Perhaps we still need gatekeepers (librarians, publishers, experts, journalists, academic peer review, etc), to help us navigate through the sea of disposable media. Wesch is right– it is up to us now.  There is no perceived metaphorical card catalog full of answers.  The idea of a shared body of literature which the “cultured” young mind should embrace is out-of-date because current viral videos, remixed in hopes of creating a spotlighted meme has become more valued than the slow road to research, refined art or edification. When popularity (followers, friends, and a perceived online image) is regarded as the achievement of success, the journey toward wisdom is out-dated. 

The Internet, as seen in Wesch’s video, is created by us all- without gatekeepers. At this point in history, I think we still need them.  Anyone today can upload content, be a photographer, a journalist, or a content curator.  But, only some of us are trained (or gifted) to do it well. Let’s give a tip of the hat to the gatekeepers, the lifeguards in the sea of chaos.

Virtual Visits with Authors & Illustrators in the School Library

Digital participatory culture provides us with opportunities to collaborate and communicate across the globe. For the past four years, I have been Skyping authors in my school library with 4th grade students. I am amazed at the willingness of authors to share their time and talent with my students.

This year, I asked both the author and illustrator of Giants Beware to virtually visit with my students. The author, Jorge Aguirre, and the illustrator, Rafael Rosado, were willing to share the process of collaborating on their graphic novel which has been nominated for the Texas Bluebonnet Award (a state award for books chosen by students).

Students asked interesting questions while Rosado created a live graphic picture on his iPad , signed and dated it, then emailed it to me immediately after the session. We decided to use Google Hangouts this year because we wanted all three of us to share live video (which is free and easy on Google Hangouts). My school library is in Texas, Aguirre lives in New Jersey, and Rosado lives in Ohio.  A LIVE virtual visit across the U.S. was exciting for the students and a great example of global participatory digital culture.