The Future of Books

Categories: Media
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Published on: June 1, 2012

I camped out in a Barnes & Noble Café this afternoon to get some work done, and a woman, her mother, and her two young children sat down nearby. The children, a boy and a girl, were flipping through some magazines they had picked up off the racks.

The little girl, no older than four, tossed her book on the table and proclaimed “This book is so lame! All you can do is color it!”

After the parent in me finished laughing at the girl’s choice of words, I got to thinking about her statement. What’s going to happen with a girl like this when she enters kindergarten?

My own daughter just finished kindergarten. She did a lot of the traditional worksheets, but she also enjoys using learning apps on my iPad and she was one of the kids who helped teach her friends how to use the school’s iPads when they went into the kindergarten classroom. She enjoys coloring books, but she prefers using coloring apps on my iPad and her mom’s iPod touch because she can change the colors and erase the screen at will. Does my daughter think the worksheets in class are lame, too?

I would argue e-books have already made the shift from accepted to embraced. Traditional publishing is starting to understand this, even if not all of the textbook manufacturers have gotten the memo. If my daughter and this little girl are any indication, we may be looking at a future where e-books will become preferred over print media.

Let’s think about this: print books, on the whole, have only one function. Unless we’re talking about an activity book of some kind, there is no real interactivity. Print is one-and-done. An e-book, however, can be updated, manipulated, or interacted with in a number of ways. When the child is done reading, one is simply archived or deleted while the other collects dust on a shelf or lands in a recycling bin or a landfill.

While many in our generation have a love or nostalgia for print books, what reason do our children have to feel this way? My ten-year-old son is a big reader, and he has a lot of print books in his room. Yet he was perfectly content to read A Princess of Mars on my iPod’s Kindle app for free rather than having me buy him a print copy.

In fact, he enjoyed it more because the backlit screen allowed him to read in the car at night. Now he wants his own iPod and Kindle app.

Yet here we are with teachers who say they don’t want these devices in their classrooms because they’re too distracting. To the kids, this is going to be a conflicting message. We may as well be telling them they’re not allowed to read their favorite books.

And if the kids aren’t going to convince us we need to start embracing change, maybe the parents will. Coming back to the family behind me, I overheard them discussing alternatives to the local public schools for the kids, ranging from a Montessori program in Peoria to what must have been some kind of charter school (she talked about testing and acceptance) to just doing home schooling.

Technology may not be the reason parents are seeking alternatives, but by embracing it and demonstrating how we can adapt to change, maybe we can make these parents less compelled to pull their kids from our schools.

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