Tuesday, 22 January 2013

The Terrifying E-book

I fervently hope that Children will always have access to real books.

Illustration by Susie Tyler

I've been seeing a lot of articles lately, about the popularity contest between e-books and real printed books. There is a great deal of enthusiasm around e-books as well as a great deal of reluctance and resentment. It seems that a lot of people who remain loyal to real books are trying to express why e-books should not replace printed books and praising the virtues of real books by listing the qualities they possess that e-books never will, such as smell, tactility, the joy of page turning. No matter how convenient e-books are, many people still want an object, a soft or crisp page to turn and beautiful books to line up on their shelves. I know I do. But figures are being bandied about to say that sales of ebooks topped printed books in 2011 and 2012.

My concern is not just that we lose something that we love, but that emerging generations will be relying on technology for information and stories as well as social media and correspondence. EVERYTHING will be digital and something has got to keep kids grounded in reality.

So much of our world relies on us reading from screens. While technology enables this and developments mean that screens are getting kinder and kinder to our eyes, they are still a screen, something we have to lock into, focussing on something that is not there, drawing us in to a digital, untouchable world. Something that takes our attention, stops us listening to our friends and family, makes us blind and deaf to the people around us. A virtual coma, making us separate and unapproachable. I love technology and I love my phone and my computer. I love that my husband gets so much reading pleasure from his Kindle, and reads to me aloud from it. But I know it’s all too easy to get wrapped up in a game on a DS, or absorbed in a chat on facebook on your phone, making anti-sociabilty acceptable. What about board games and playing with toys or playing outside? What about face to face conversations and eye contact? What about letting someone you love know how important they are to you by switching off all tech and giving them your UNDIVIDED attention?

In the end, what I’m trying to say is that it’s not a war. Both e-books and real books are valuable, to a lesser and greater extent for different people and different circumstances. But however useful and convenient e-books, and all digital screen-based devices are, don’t let children rely on them. Don’t let children grow up thinking it’s ok to be immersed in screens in all their free time. Encourage them to remember and value real books, real games, real conversations. With their eyes and hands and voices. Help them to appreciate it by doing it with them, showing them that digital tech is not real life.

Obviously, these things in themselves are not wrong, but our addiction to and reliance upon them is.

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