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.It's a long piece but well worth the read.
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.
Friday, February 13, 2009
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: