Friday, February 13, 2009

Literacy in the digital age and reading on a Kindle.

Via Ed Champion, a link to this thoughtful article by Christine Rosen about literacy in the digital age, with an emphasis on the reading experience on a Kindle. Of particular interest is her take on how children fit into this new age of on-screen reading:
It is also worth questioning what role the Kindle will play in the lives of younger readers. If there is such a thing as a culture of reading, it begins in the home. Regardless of their parents’ educational background or income level, children raised in homes with books become more proficient readers. Does this apply to the Kindle? Sven Birkerts, author of The Gutenberg Elegies (1994), describes how our screen technologies exert a “conditioning impact” on all of us who use them; that is, “they make it harder, once we do turn from the screen, to engage the single-focus requirement of reading.” This seems a particular danger for children. We already know that electronic books marketed for children, far from being helpful in teaching literacy, can hamper it. Researchers at Temple University’s Infant Laboratory and the Erikson Institute in Chicago who studied electronic books aimed at children described a “slightly coercive parent-child interaction as opposed to talking about the story,” and concluded, “We shouldn’t use e-books to replace traditional books.” Anyone who has read a book to a toddler knows that one experience with an e-reader would yield more interest in the buttons and the scroll wheel than the story itself.

Meanwhile, older children and teens who are coming of age surrounded by cell phones, video games, iPods, instant messaging, text messaging, and Facebook have finely honed digital literacy skills, but often lack the ability to concentrate that is the first requirement of traditional literacy. This poses challenges not just to the act of reading but also to the cultural institutions that support it, particularly libraries. The New York Times recently carried a story about the disruptive behavior of younger patrons in the British Library Reading Room. Older researchers—and by old they meant over thirty—lamented the boisterous atmosphere in the library and found the constant giggling, texting, and iPod use distracting. A library spokesman was not sympathetic to the neo-geezers’ concerns, saying, “The library has changed and evolved, and people use it in different ways. They have a different way of doing their research. They are using their computers and checking things on the Web, not just taking notes on notepads.” In today’s landscape of digital literacy, the old print battles—like the American Library Association’s “Banned Books Week,” held each year since 1982—seem downright quaint, like the righteous crusade of a few fusty tenders of the Dewey Decimal system. Students today are far more likely to protest a ban on wireless Internet access than book censorship.
It's a long piece but well worth the read.


Ann Victor said...

Very depressing on two counts.

(1) Are books truly a dying institution? And how long before the only paper books we see are in museums?
(2) Over-30 is considered OLD? Gulp. Point me to the nearest museum. I may as well join the books.

Scott said...

As a former Psychology student, I've always - i.e., why I'm no longer a psycholgoy student - had a problem with 'studies'. I never could see how a study group of 100 people applied across the board to millions upon billions of people. Not everybody who watches violent tv or plays violent video games becomes a violent person.

With that being said, how many parents are really going to let their young child read from a $359 Kindle? Can you get 'Green Eggs and Ham' (my all time favorite Dr. Seuss book, btw) on Kindle? Would you want to? Has society reached the point where curling up on the couch at the end of the day with Dr. Seuss and your child no longer exists? I don't think so. I think that as long as there are children, there will be parents reading to their children from regular old books. I do think that when the kids reach a certain age, they will go the ebook route. The world is changing and, unfortunately I sometimes think, we must change with that world.

I have entered the dark realm of e-readers myself, something I swore I would never do. In the end, my decision was money-based: I can save a ton on books each year. Okay, the weight of my backpack when flying had something to do with it as well.

Lastly, if 30 is old, then I must be heading toward elderly since I'm in my - very - early 40s. SIGH!

archangelbeth said...

I dunno about that last sentence of the first paragraph. Yes, a young kid is going to want to play with the buttons... But that same young kid is likely, when first exposed to a book, to pull at the pages and chew on the cover. Just as a parent, reading a regular book with a kid, would make sure to guard it from harm... so would that same parent guard the ebook reader from harm when reading to the kid.

I'm not going to regret being able to hand the kid my iPhone with the option of a book of fairy tales in one of the readers, the Fnorder in another app, a Peebo Tales comic... She reads hardcopy books as well, but having the option rocks.

Cathy in AK said...

My kids are already plugged in more than I like, though there will come a day when reading is added to their electronic activities. No matter how they fulfill their reading needs, there will always be hardcopy books in our house.

I couldn't see handling a toddler a $359 Kindle (sticky fingers can lead to all kinds of electronic mishaps) but I'm betting a kid-friendly version of a reader is on its way.

Criss said...

I don't think e-readers mean paper books are going to go away. Especially not when we're talking about picture books, board books, bath books, and everything else sold in the kids' section.

I want an e-reader so I can carry it in my purse and always have a book with me; I also think newspapers should pick up on Internet-ready e-readers and download news stories to your Kindle/iPhone/whatevernewfancygadgetIcan'tafford. (Do they do that already? Haven't looked into it much, since I know it's out of my price range...)

Books are too much a part of us to just toss them aside. We like having books around; we like smelling the musty pages of old ones, we like arranging them by color or height or thickness on our bookshelves to show off how smart and well-read we are, we like looking at a full set of a collection neatly lined up in a row. E-readers are convenient, but books are special. They're not going to go away.

Things are going to change, but books are not going to go away. (Especially not kids' books.)