Saturday, December 21, 2013

In Praise of Real, Live Books

As I turn the last few pages of the third book in George R. R. Martin's Song of Fire and Ice series, A Storm of Swords, I am reminded once again of how deeply pleasurable the experience of grasping, folding and negotiating the pages of a  "real" books is. The tactile enjoyment of progressing page-by-page through the printed word (whether novel, poetry, how-to manuals or comic books) is something that I am unable to give up in favor of the cold, carriable ease of an e-reader. That physical interaction possible with paper and ink addressees a need fro engagement on a sensory level that plastic just fails to meet.

Three days ago, I came across an article from The Atlantic entitled "Tablets Make It Nearly Impossible for Kids to Get Lost in a Story: by Asi Sharabi that seemed to give further credence to the value of this sort of interaction, at least anecdotally. The article's subtitle, "iPads are great at a lot of things, but engaging kids in a narrative is not one of them," suggests a reality that is being praised for taking place in public schools: replacing library and classroom hard copy books with e-readers. While this is framed as a potentially cost-saving measure, a transition of this sort comes at a price, and not just a financial one. This is reinforced by the findings that further suggest that "screens don’t seem to be improving their [children's] experience of reading. Children who read only on-screen are three times less likely to enjoy reading (12 percent vs. 51 percent) and a third less likely to have a favorite book (59 percent vs. 77 percent)." Wow.

Schools looking to be "current," and maybe even on some level "hip," see technological advances in many forms as a means of making concrete their abstract desire to be (or be seen as) progressive. But perhaps something is being lost: "Unlike the instantly alluring tablet, engaging with stories is an acquired skill that takes time and effort." Intellectually, it feels like trading in a deep understanding, one requiring energy and effort thus yielding meaningful results, for an instantly attractive, and ultimately disposable, bell-and-whistle. I am typing this on a computer myself, so I am not suggesting an alarmist, Luddite-like approach to tech, just that some things should be savored, and that maybe (in some cases) that includes certain reading materials.

Asi Sharabi's article is a provocative pre-purchase read for you before rushing out to buy a last minute on-sale tablet for the nascent reader in your life. Though the seductive tech-train left the station long ago, there is no need to neglectfully mothball the bicycle that has brought each of us so far on our individual reading journeys.

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