Technology can be scary, especially for older generations who weren’t bottle-fed on digital bits. The telephone stirred fears of accidentally communicating with the dead; television supposedly pumped brain-melting radioactive waves into the skull; and the Internet was (and still is, despite research stating otherwise) depicted as deleterious to young minds.
Plain and simple, that’s technophobia, and it may be holding back your child’s education.
Scholastic—the world’s largest publisher of children’s books—conducted a study examining reading in the 21st century. The study looked at 2,000 young people between the ages of 6 and 17, as well as their parents’ perceptions of the impact digital devices has on learning.
“Fifty-seven percent of kids (age 9-17) say they are interested in reading an e-book, and a third of children age 9-17 say they would read more books for fun if they had access to eBooks on an electronic device,” the study reports. About 25 percent of the children surveyed said they had already read a book on a digital device, including computers and e-readers.
But it’s hard to tap into these eager young minds when the parents themselves have low adoption rates of e-reader tech. Only 6 percent of the parents surveyed owned an e-reader, and only 16 percent said they were considering buying one in the next year (emphasis on considering). However, 83 percent of the parents said they’d share e-readers with their children.
Consider the ever-changing definition of “e-reader.” The term recently referred only to Kindle-like devices, but the release of the iPad and Apple’s iBooks has propelled the tablet computer into the e-reading arena.
The iPad is also full of games and other distractions, which, if the device is used as a substitute for printed materials, could land kids in a time-suck vortex. On the plus side, other companies have recognized the conceivable positive impact tablet computers hold on e-reading: the Knowledge Now tablet was recently created with the sole purpose of uniting tablets with e-readers.
When it comes to other electronics, such as video games and cellphones, parents are still overwhelmingly furrow-browed. Surveyed parents said these “distractions” negatively affect the time kids spend reading books (41 percent), doing physical activities (40 percent), and engaging with family (33 percent).
One parent was said that she was afraid her son’s attention span would only process “fast-moving ideas,” and that interest in reading would be abandoned.
Fair enough, but those kinds of fear-driven blanket statements are dismissive of the awesome potential of modern tech. Video games, for instance, have long been associated with bloodthirsty lunatics hell-bent on blowing up schools; headline-hungry mainstream media have largely ignored the positive impact of gaming.
Moralistic detractors fail to recognize that modern video games have become deeply cerebral storytelling platforms—the “new novel,” if you will. So if you haven’t delved, for example, into objectivism in the gripping, scary, and narrative-driven BioShock, you’re missing something—and you probably don’t know what the heck you’re talking about.
And isn’t this the age where everything moves fast? Isn’t the processing of fast-moving ideas a good thing? Instead of losing sleep over brain developments and culture shifts—and holding offspring back from engaging with new technologies—these parental decision-makers should modernize their approach to learning, for their old roads are rapidly aging.
Even more importantly, publishers, software developers, and other companies with fingers in the education pie should embrace these new methodologies and information-sponging processes, evolve their products in industry-changing ways, and stop clutching hardcovers to their chests.
The title of Scholastic’s study says it all: this is reading in the 21st century. Times—and minds—are a-changin’; so should we.