I’ve never despised electronic books. Let me make that clear from the outset. Yes, I remember expressing some ambivalence when e-books started becoming mainstream. After all, I have chronic dry eyes spend most days staring at a screen for hours on end. Still, I’ve almost come to prefer pixels over paper in recent years. Thanks to the Overdrive app, I can have an entire library’s worth of titles on my phone in an instant. Forget driving to my local branch before starting a long trip or schlepping ten extra pounds of high-fantasy escapism across the country. Add to that the opportunities e-books afford for independent and out-of-print titles and the situation looks rosier still. All the same, I’m making a pledge here and now with you all as my witnesses that I’m swearing off of them. Yep, you read that right: Adios, e-books. So long, and thanks for all the fish.
Just so you know, I blame my kids for the decision.
Why? Well, most everyone here knows that Story Warren exists to instill holy imagination in children, and reading is a big part of that. Stories teach us what’s true, show us what’s false, and are a fount of joy in and of themselves. I read to my little ones stories about garden-growing rabbits and gargantuan red dogs, princesses in paper bags and pirate-munching monsters. I want them to see me reading, too, for my example to become a normalizing influence that helps them develop a delightful lifelong habit.
And right there is where e-books become a problem.
As I mentioned before, I usually read on my phone, an arrangement that provides a brief escape from long lines and traffic jams. Now what does it look like when I’m reading a novel? Like I’m holding my phone and tapping the screen. Of course, one of the great things about the smartphone is its functionality. Internet, email, social media—it handles them all, and I do love me some electronic communication. Of course, you know what it looks like when I’m perusing funny pictures of cats on Reddit or posting quirky comics on Facebook: It looks like I’m holding my phone and tapping the screen. And truth be told, I’ve been known to use my phone for less … profitable pursuits. I’ve been a gamer since the age of six, and the Apple app store is fairly bursting with revamped titles from my childhood. But whether I’m exploring interdimensional dungeons or trying to master an eighties-inspired hacking simulation, it looks like I’m holding my phone and tapping the screen—just usually in landscape mode.
This is why e-books do a lousy job at socializing children into reading: They don’t provide any obvious cue as to the activity in which the user is indulging. All my kids learn is that I like my phone, and they like the endless runners, clips from Jake and The Neverland Pirates, and GIFs of pratfalling dogs they know they can find on it. But books are just books, nothing more or less, and I want my children to know they’re worth both their time and mine. So this is my pledge, dear readers: From here on out, may my life be a paean to paper.
(Picture: CC 2015 by Japanexperterna.se)
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It is so great to read of a parent recognizing this as the problem it is.
I work with children who are struggling to gain early literacy skills, and have discovered through conversations with them that their perception is that mum and dad do not read – because they are are too busy doing work on their phones! While I don’t always know enough about their parents to know what their reading habits are, it is likely they are reading for pleasure at some points – a newspaper article or two at the minimum, and perhaps even escaping into a novel, but as you say, children cannot see the transition from online work, mindlessly following social media,or playing memory improving games, to reading, when adults are always on their phone. Yes, ‘blame the kids’ for the need to pick up a paper book – it’s a wonderful idea!
Loren Eaton says
Thanks for the kind words, Judy. That’s exactly how it works with my kiddos. They love the games and the funny pictures, but they’re instantly bored if they only see text. Ironically, they love it when I read to them! So the phone needs to go away for a bit, methinks.
Thea Rosenburg says
YES! This is my first reason (of many) for preferring paper to print, and you articulate it so well! I want my kids to read and to love reading, and I want them to know that I love reading–which means that they need to actually see me reading.
And you’re right: reading on a screen doesn’t look like reading from the outside. But reading a book with an interesting cover? My kids ask about it. They know not just that I’m reading but what I’m reading. That’s worth carrying an actual physical book around.
My solution for this – use a simple, dedicated e-reader. I have a Nook that serves that function. It can be used to read e-books but technically cannot do anything else. No web browsing, Facebook, Twitter, etc. I think it is a good compromise.
Kimberlee Conway Ireton says
Yay! As a die-hard paper lover, I’m always happy when someone else wants to return to the fold 🙂 I’ve always read paper books simply because I prefer them. (I really did try to read on a Kindle…and on my phone. I hated both.) Thank you for giving me yet another reason to justify my habit 🙂