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10.27.2010

Developing Healthy E-Habits

The morning is already thick with book news. It was only a matter of time before a full-fledged children's e-reading system hit the market, and it looks like today is the day. I am typing this with the sound of a creepy voice reading "Jamberry" from the NOOKKids website in the background.

I know, simple interactive e-readers have been around for kids for a while now, but none of them have been mainstream. They've been overpriced, under-quality devices with a very limited library. Now with about 12,000 titles ranging from Rick Riordan's popular series (which has been available on e-readers since the beginning) to Go, Dog. Go!, the new color-based Nook has youthful legs. Of course, unless the techno-savvy parents who are considering these devices for their children have unlimited resources, there is one very obvious concern: What parent is willing to spend $150 dollars to give a sensitive, easily damaged, touchscreen e-reader to their three year old? The last thing we want to do is teach children not to pick up their books because they might hurt them. This is why we teach them to read with board books and tough paperbacks. So, in a practical sense, how are parents going to handle this? Or will they bother at all?

I might ask why bother with this development at all, but I already know the answer. We do it because we can. That seems to be a great impetus of most modern technology. Little of it is really helpful or even essential.

People have been wondering about children's e-reading for a while. I don't know anyone in particular who has been waiting for this break-out with baited breath. None of the five-year olds I've met with have begged me to give them an update on the latest digital media for their demographic. But we've expected it. It was inevitable. And it's just like Barnes & Noble to come up with the latest feature that will add to their list of perks without ever actually setting them above the market (shall we say book lending anyone?). Color is cool, but the Nook people have a way of releasing the newest thing ahead of anyone else just to get those initial sales. I assure you, before the novelty has worn off, Kindle and perhaps even Kobo will come out with a color device that will function more smoothly and work more accessibly - all because they took a little time.

I am being generous with the e-culture, of course, because I know that more inevitably than color screens, future generations will read almost exclusively through pixelated monitors. To balk against it will be as futile and absurd as objecting over the development of the steam engine. But I will say for the record, because many of you are with me on this, that the sight of Jamberry on that screen, pausing mid-creepy-voice narrative for a capture the berries game was beyond depressing. Our children will have very quick brains, able to capture and conceptualize information at an alarming speed. That is certainly a good thing. But they will have lost the ability to ruminate, dwell, contemplate, and even be careful.

Not to mention - which is a whole separate argument - that the spread of technology like this only serves to further broaden the gap between developing nations and our own. But as I said, that is a whole other argument - and certainly not one which is intended to suggest halting the flow of progress so that our sister nations can catch up with us.

Oh, the changing world. Who can keep up with it?

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