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eBooks or Print Books?

girl reading

Image by the Real Estreya. licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license

This week, several other members of the MLTI team and I attended the Diverse 2010 Conference in Portland. This was a small, international conference where the Americans were in the minority and the World Cup was a major topic of conversation, but the keynotes, sessions, and workshops were all about teaching and learning with video. One session I attended was about Vooks and iPads. It caused me to turn my attention from video to text, and to think again about reading and books and my personal reading preferences.

I wrote about this a few years ago when the Kindle first came out and I was trying to understand why I was so resistant to reading from a screen. I recently got my hands on an iPad and I began thinking about it again. The iPad makes eBooks look great and, because the text is digital, older readers with aging eyes (like me) can customize the appearance of the page to make reading more comfortable. I think I may be ready to try reading a whole book on my iPad, but I know I’m not ready to give up my print books. My challenge now is to determine how much of my reluctance to read from the screen is cultural and age-related and whether today’s middle and high school students can read as effectively from the screen as they can from the printed page. According to a story on NPR’s All Tech Considered, reading on a Kindle, iPad, or PC takes slightly longer than reading from a printed page. Should this be a concern?

I spoke to Jim Wells about this today and he reminded me of a quote from Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In a piece he wrote for the Sunday Times in 1999, he discussed our attitudes toward new technologies:

1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal; 2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it; 3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.

My husband has a similar theory about music. He contends that the music you truly love throughout your lifetime is the music you embraced in your teens and twenties. You may develop an appreciation for other music as you age, but it’s not as dear to you as the music you grew up with.

I think this may explain how I feel about books. I grew up with them and, while I may develop an appreciation for eBooks, I continue to prefer the print books that I can hold in my hand and see on my shelves. But our students are, according to Alan November, screenagers. They’ve grown up with digital text and may not have the same biases we do. We can’t assume that they will be more or less successful as readers if they prefer to read from a screen. We have to let the choice be theirs.

By the way, I still listen to vinyl records too.

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