December 12, 2006: GOOGLE releases an add-on to Google Earth in an attempt to reverse the damage it has done to millions of children around the world. But instead of reigniting children’s belief in Santa, it has effectively provided a fatal blow that will resonate in the ears and minds of our now scarred youth.
Children know that if they are good, Santa will come to their house on Christmas Eve and bring them presents. But only if they have been good all year. Santa lives at the North Pole and on Christmas Eve he takes off in his sleigh pulled by magical reindeer, to visit the home of every good child on Earth.
For over a year now, many schools have been using incredible educational tools like Google Earth with their students to give them a wider view of this amazing planet and the reality we live in. One of the first things just about everybody does with Google Earth is to find their own home in their own town. They zoom in and they see their rooftop and their backyard. They see the park down the street. They see their school. They see an ocean of rooftops. They see their whole town. Then they start to think.
In the playground at lunchtime little Virginia is discussing with little Charlie: “Did you see all those houses in our town? Did you notice how few houses actually had chimneys?”. Charlie says, “Yeah, so what?“. So what, indeed. Well Virginia, did you know that less than 0.002% of dwellings in the world have chimneys and that many are little more than stovepipes that even a skinny Santa would find impossible to climb into?
After lunch, Virginia jumps back onto Google Earth. She heads off to the North Pole. She saw Elf last Christmas. If you can spot a topless sunbather on a rooftop in Holland in Google Earth, you must be able to spot Santa’s place! But guess what? There’s no land at the North Pole! All Google Earth shows is water. The Arctic Ocean. She’s confused. She discusses her findings with other students. Then one of her friends reminds her of NORAD. Yes! NORAD!
They’ve got this fabulous website that is dedicated to tracking Santa’s movements across the globe on Christmas Eve. NORAD’s been tracking Santa every year since 1955! They use satellites, radar and trailing jet fighters with SantaCams. Isn’t NORAD run by the government? They must have video, audio and photographs that prove Santa’s miracle. Surely the government would never deceive children. So Virginia takes a closer look at NORAD’s site. She finds an official email address for Santa himself. She knows it must be official – NorthPole@officialsantamail.com – but still, she’s not sure. So she runs a WHOIS lookup. Strangely, she discovers officialsantamail.com is registered to a company in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Virginia’s concerns start to grow. Coincidentally, there are “Virginias” in every school, in every town, in every country on Earth. The news gets back to Google that a revolt by children across the globe is imminent. Parents are furious. Meetings are hastily arranged and Google Earth 4.0 is released and with it an add-on to allow children to “see” and track Santa from his “base” at the North Pole.
The school Principal negotiates a meeting with Virginia and her followers to show that the “bug” in the previous version of Google Earth had been fixed and that Santa uses “scrambling” technology to avoid detection and keep the location of his workshop a secret. Google Earth 4.0 includes a new codec that circumvents Santa’s scramblers. Virginia sits at the computer and heads straight to the North Pole.
OK, that looks plausible. Official NASA watermark on the image. There’s his workshop, a runway and his reindeer and sleigh waiting. But what’s that on the path? Viriginia zooms in. There he is! It’s Santa! But he looks somewhat cartoonish. Something’s wrong. Virginia plays with Google Earth’s slant tool and… the game is up.
The story of Santa Claus has been passed down unchanged from generation to generation. Not as a story to delight children, but as a way for parents to control their children. But it’s harmless! – or is it? Perhaps it’s OK to teach children there’s nothing wrong with being deceitful – I mean, it goes all the way to the top of government anyway… Or instead, maybe we could all be better parents and show our children the difference between right and wrong by what we do and what we say. Our children aren’t stupid. Why do we treat them like they are?
Wishing all my readers a happy and safe Christmas.