There is an unseemly glee in the responses to articles like this one saying that children read more with hardcopy books than e-books; and that gleeful response from adults is at odds with many more articles bemoaning that our children are not being given the skills needed to thrive in the new digital world.
It should really come as no great surprise to find that kids like hardcopy books. Just look at the richly illustrated and coloured books they are presented with and then compare that with an e-book that is lucky to have a badly-placed black-and-white line-drawing. But let’s recognise that that’s not anything intrinsic to ebooks, it’s simply a reflection of the state of the technology. Give it a couple more years and ebooks will be as rich, if not richer, than hardcopy books.
Then let’s talk about access. Paper books are available everywhere. How many kids have their own reader for ebooks that means they can read whenever and wherever they want? How many school libraries can lend ebooks? How many teachers are willing to have the kids work with ebooks? Again that’s not intrinsic it’s just the reality of a relatively new market developing.
Choosing a book remains awful on every e-reader I’ve played with. Little beats wandering past bookshelves as a way of finding a book to read. But, once again, that’s something that could, and will, be solved as the market develops.
On the other side of the equation there is the stark reality that when the kids being talked about today are out in the workforce in 20-years time they are going to be reading stuff on screen. Whether that is text books, manuals, or letters and memos – it will be on screen. So it behooves us to ensure that they have the skills to deal with that now.
Because if not now, when? If we don’t teach them as kids how to deal with the distractions, and other issues, offered by the devices, they are not going to learn later.
I’m not arguing that ebooks are perfect or that they are some universal panacea for our education problems: An argument about the use of technology in classrooms seems to have got conflated with ebooks in many people’s minds. But I am arguing that there’s a lot to be said for ebooks, and that much of the negativity seems to be facile arguments leapt upon by adults as a reflection of their own dislikes of the medium.
Many adults dislike ebooks and that is a product of their own upbringing with paper books (and let’s not forget many adults dislike email and social media too). Those adults are in the fortunate position of being able to choose between paper and electronic mediums. The next generation simply wont have that option – basic economics tells us that is so. As demand for paper decreases the cost of production and distribution is going to make paper prohibitively expensive – even leaving to one side all the issues with killing trees in today’s climate. Can we really see newspapers being printed on paper in 20 years time? Or anything other than very special books? I can’t.
And if that’s right we have a responsibility to teach our kids how to work with the medium. That doesn’t mean they can’t have paper books, or that every adult should reject paper; it just means we need to have an open mind, take advantage of the medium when appropriate, and not kid ourselves about what the future holds.