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“Sometimes the old-fashioned way just works”

Last year, I wrote a blog post on my thoughts about the future of the book. I took a very firm stand that books can never be replaced by the new electronic age, at least not in my home anyway. Well, my knowledge about the e-book and emerging technologies has grown quite a bit in the last year, and while the Kindle may be a great mechanism for some, it has not quite found a place in my pocketbook, yet.

A couple months ago, a news station announced a public school that was considering buying electronic textbooks instead of bound books for all its classes. After hearing this news, I stood with my mouth open in shock for a few minutes trying to grasp this unfamiliar concept. It hit me then, just how popular the e-book was becoming and how terribly close we were to it completely redefining the way we read, study, educate, and even live.

I began thinking of my own education experience, especially as a child growing up. Learning to read was one of the biggest accomplishments and most important steps in my development. I can recall sitting on my bed as a toddler, struggling with certain words in a particular Dr. Seuss book, with my mother beside me encouraging me along, reminding me I did know those words. I can also recall the feeling of being able to read my first book completely by myself. The accomplishment I felt of being able to open a book, smell its pages, read its words, understand its meaning, and hold it close to my heart when I was finished. It was an experience that can never be replaced, especially by a hand-held device. While, I would hope we never have to teach our kids to read through the small screen of an iPhone application, I can’t imagine having to attend school trying to learn World History on an electronic textbook. Does that seem like the optimal way to learn?

I admit there are certain conveniences of having an e-book, the ability to take it anywhere and the option to have many stories all saved on one device. And certainly all of our backs would be a lot stronger if we hadn’t carried around so many heavy textbooks as high school teenagers. But for me, education is a hands-on experience. I need to hold it, highlight it, flip it, write it, and see it on a printed piece of paper. Having electronic formats for many things is wonderful, and there are various avenues where it can be used efficiently in education, but I would hope that the conversion to all electronic education would not do a disservice to children who need a more tangible way to learn.

Maybe the idea just needs to sit on me awhile longer, but this digital age is moving quickly. Hopefully, we will find a happy-medium where the growth of one form of books/education does not lead to the exclusion of the other. This new growth can be good, but why fix something that isn’t broken? Sometimes the old-fashioned way just works.


  1. May 12, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    If Gutenberg had been asked about the future of the scribe, he might have got it wrong. The end of the medieval world? The rise of the nation state? Say it isn’t so! On the digital world and binary code, check back with me in 100 years. Donn

  2. Charles Keely
    May 12, 2011 at 11:57 pm

    Textbooks seems a natural for e books, especially for upper grades, college, and grad school. An anatomy , engineering, or other science book could have 360degree rotating illustrations, streaming of processes, etc. Even humanities or history could have a variety of illustration instead of one picture. Hypertext can do sidecars or boxes, etc.
    Once one gets beyond basis reading, fiction or the short essay, text on e books or with Internet links, or CDs like some Oak Knoll bibliographies seems a natural. I suspect the large, fat text for intro anything, and even readings for advanced courses are already going the way of the dodo bird. And any course that requires journal articles for reading assignments ESP. In sciences already is in the world or the e journal.
    E books are a complementary technology. They can do some communication jobs better, but not all. Rob has a future.

  3. Danielle Burcham
    May 13, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    Charles, thank you for your insight. You make a very good point. Reading on digital formats may make it much easier to view, enlarge, or rotate illustrations or diagrams. This could help facilitate learning in certain ways. Even so, I think I would still have a hard time trying to learn facts or read through an English textbook in an electronic format. Again, I think the book works better for me because I like holding a hard copy. Some of it may just come down to personal preference and the particular area of study.

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