Musings on the Wild World of Writing & Editing

Posts tagged ‘iPad’

Not Your Parents’ Coloring Book

The Digital Chill Pill for Kids

ImageBecause I’m not a parent, I don’t spend a lot of time on blogs devoted to raising children. I read Motherlode sometimes on the New York Times, particularly if the article concerns education or children’s health. The only reason I came across this article was because it showed up in my Publisher’s Weekly daily email. I was intrigued because of my interest in cyberliteracy and how children are more adapted to constant use of the Internet than adults (even me, despite the fact that I’m 22). True, millennials and younger people are technology natives, while older adults are technology immigrants, where the younger people grew up with technology and have little to no trouble using it, while adults have to acclimate and adjust to a (digital) technology-heavy world. But even millennials are behind young children who are growing up with cell phones and iPads (I didn’t have a cell phone until I was in my teens, and even then it was a clunker). I see kids in the subway on iPads, in restaurants, in stores, in strollers. I’m mostly fascinated by this trend–all a parent has to do is hand over an iPad or iPhone, and a child is entertained for hours, much more than those activity or coloring books you did on road trips as a kid with a box of crayons. It’s a digital pacifier.

Is handing a kid an iPad any different than giving a coloring book or interactive game/puzzle? The goal is to distract the child, so what difference does it make if it’s on a screen or not? We’ve been developing games to improve children’s education for ages, and that technology is becoming more and more sophisticated as time goes on. As a kid, I had a “laptop” with a bunch of educational games on it, and my brother and I often worked on brain teasers/puzzles/logic games. So, were my brother and I any better off?

The Ads Say This: Tablets Teach your Kids to Read, Write, and Play

ImageYou can’t escape the bombardment of tablet apps and ads geared toward children. I see them every day on billboards and in the subways. They’re ubiquitous, and the message is clear: an iPad can teach your kid to write, to read, and to play (by the way, play is a valuable form of learning, but that’s a different topic for a different day). Because parents want their kids to get ahead of the curve, they’ve invested in video/handheld education games for years. As a kid, I remember seeing ads for pre-tablet handheld video games, kind of like a Nintendo Gameboy but it was all about interactive learning. But these games and handheld devices have become increasingly sophisticated and diversified with thousands of games and apps to choose from.

In my opinion, yes, iPads are different than old-school non-digital games. As someone who had bad fine motor skills, using a regular crayon to color improved my handwriting. Using a pencil to practice my letters made my grip on writing utensils better. Using my finger to trace letters on a screen or pressing spaces on a coloring “page” would have done little to solve the problem of my poor fine motor skills. In addition, you interact differently with paper and actual hard games like Rubik’s cubes or mancala or even checkers than you do with a screen. I’m not faulting parents who use iPads to get their kids to chill while they try to go shopping or enjoy a meal. I definitely understand that from a non-parent perspective. But should iPads and tablets be our default digital education tool?

Alone Together

There’s another perspective on this–giving kids iPads as a constant distraction prevents them from interacting with other people and improving interpersonal skills. Additionally, not having constant visual and auditory stimulation on a screen teaches children how to sit in quiet, to be alone, to be by themselves in their heads. Children need to react to external stimuli, but children also need to know how to really talk to other people and to value alone time.

ImageInterestingly enough, the article mentions an expert whose Ted talk I watched during cyberliteracy class. Sherry Turkle explains that the more time we spend in front of screen, interacting with others through instant messaging and email, the more we isolate ourselves, and not in a good way. Having a good-ol’ fashioned conversation and actually engaging another person are far more valuable than learning your letters on a tablet. Knowing how to keep in touch with people beyond just Facebook wall posts and photo sharing is an important skill that we inhibit in our children when we emphasize digital technology that cannot–and should not–replace basic human interaction. We are social creatures, herd animals, and we benefit enormously from human touch, from mimicking other’s facial gestures and body posture, from learning basic social skills.

Maybe iPads are better than what I had–how do we know? The data isn’t in yet about what children on iPads are like long-term in terms of neurology, psychology, and sociology. Only time will tell.

What About Books?

So what does this have to do with books, you ask? Well, publishers and developers alike are creating books that are more like games than books. Just like those books where you have a choice (“If you enter the cave, turn to page 50; if you decide to take an alternative route, turn to page 12”), these new books embed into the text games, video, sound, etc. In a way, I think this development is pretty cool that books are now a social, interactive application. Integrating media into text is important–multimedia and multimodal texts are becoming de rigeur.

kid reading bookBut, as a traditionalist, I have to put up a fight for the old school book. Digital, interactive textbooks will probably be a good thing–kids will be able to check answers quickly, engage in learning, and explore new learning techniques. But as for literature with a capital “L,” the value of the old school paper book cannot be overstated. These books teach concentration, focus, and valuable lessons on the human condition. Books as art shouldn’t be reduced to fun and games–“serious” reading improves critical thinking skills and themes about what it is to be human.

So please–use an iPad, but still get kids hooked on reading with picture books, then chapter books, then young adult books, then books for adults. Books can still be illustrated, fun, entertaining, exciting, even without buttons and whistles and bells and gadgets.

A new meaning of “ownership”

I’m going to start off topic today and mention a post I made a few weeks back about the importance of public libraries, and I recently read a Publisher’s Weekly article that supports my claim with statistics: I’m not posting this to say, “Hah! Look! I was right!” Really my intention is to show with numbers that libraries continue to be a valuable resource and an important asset to communities. There are several books I’d like to read soon, and I don’t have the funds to buy them, so I’m looking forward to checking them out from my local public library. Hooray for libraries!

Moving on to the main topic of this post, which will be short and sweet today while I chill during my lunch break before the rest of my afternoon (read: 1.5 hour long class and a goodness-knows-how-long group project meeting followed by going home and writing 6+ pages for my thesis and then eking out some French homework before working out). I know many of my posts are pretty long, so I’ll spare you the long-winded idea explications.

As someone who uses an e-reader and has purchased a fair amount of e-books for my Kindle, I became pretty concerned when I read this article: Most stores that offer online content for your e-reader have clear rights of ownership; you’re basically a renter of what you buy online and is subsequently stored digitally on the seller’s server. This move is (pardon my inappropriate language for a minute) a cover-your-ass tactic on the company’s part to avoid a lawsuit should they have a systems failure/crash and your e-content disappears. Without their disclaimers in their terms of use, you could technically sue them for loss of property if your content is lost or unavailable from a systems failure/error.

The author, Eileen Brown, brings up an excellent point of the end of the article: with content becoming increasingly digital, we need to re-evaluate our notions of ownership. When we buy an e-book, we don’t own the book in the same sense that we own a print book–Amazon or B&N or Apple or whoever has the absolute right to revoke your access to that content. You’re pretty much paying a one-time fee to lease or borrow the content, but it’s not yours. Fortunately, none of the books I’ve bought are particularly sentimental or important to me–I make sure to have the books that matter most to me in print where they’re pretty much protected, except from theft or fire, though I have no idea who would want to steal my measly book collection or set fire to my apartment.

Anything we buy online and that exists online isn’t really “ours.” We’re renting it, and like something rented, the right to rent can be revoked at any time, often without any reason. I’m not sure how long it’ll take me to get comfortable with being at the whim of large companies with stuff that I think is “mine.” “Ownership” is undergoing a radical definition change. Maybe Merriam-Webster’s will have to catch up and add an entry for online ownership. Hopefully the law will catch up with these changes to protect consumers, though I doubt with the current political gridlock that that will happen anytime soon. For now, I’m just going to enjoy what I’ve got and not worry about it; I already have a long list of things to worry about, some of which keep me up at night. There’s no room in my overcrowded head to heap this issue on the towering pile.

Have a great weekend, everybody!

Thought for the day: “Moderation in everything, in itself, is a kind of extreme.”

The e-textbook Explosion??

E-textbooks have become more and more prevalent in the university textbook scene. E-textbooks are less expensive than their print counterparts, which is a huge draw for students on a budget who can’t afford that $125 textbook that will be out-of-date and “obsolete” after one semester. Some textbook sellers even let you buy specific chapters rather than the entire book, and you can also “rent” books for 30-, 60-, 90-, 120-, and 180- day periods. These options make textbooks more affordable, more portable, and more available to students. Some students, however, still prefer the hard copy, because the hard copy is easier to mark up, annotate, and read without distraction. I once used an e-textbook for an intro religion course, and I had a hard time reading from the screen, remembering where text was located on the page, and reading deeply beyond surface-level comprehension. Some apps do allow noting and markups, but many students complain that such annotation is simply “not the same” as writing notes and underlining/highlighting by hand.

Various tablets/e-readers offer textbooks on their user interfaces, including the iPad and Kindle Fire. Students and professors mostly use third-party applications to buy and mark/annotate e-textbooks. One of these applications is Inkling for iPad, which offers interactive textbooks through major publishers–McGraw-Hill and Pearson, W.W. Norton, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, e.g. “Inkling allows publishers to create interactive content with video, interactive quizzes, 3D models and more that can be easily published across a variety of formats and platforms and updated just as easily” (

According to an article on Publisher’s Weekly, “E-textbooks on the Cusp?” (, 46% of students are interested in purchasing a textbook for their iPad, but only 10% use a tablet or smartphone for schoolwork. The article argues that because the interest is there, usage will increase as tablet prices (particularly the iPad) decrease and as professors and universities fully integrate e-textbooks into their courses.

Personally, I find that this prediction/projection is somewhat overly optimistic, unless the projection is for several years down the line. The majority of students are still reluctant to read e-textbooks on their computer or tablet. (I am one of them; I would spend more money for the print version than have to read the electronic version and not remember what I read). Students in the future may be more comfortable reading from a computer screen or tablet, but most current students have reservations about readings online. In a course I am taking right now, many readings are online, and most of the students in my class print out the electronic articles anyway to maintain their ability to mark/highlight the reading.

Also, the cost of tablets on top of the necessary laptop/computer for higher education may be beyond many students’ grasp. The iPad has no USB ports, so it cannot be connected to a printer or other drives. Its use is currently more for entertainment and less for education, and many iPad users see it as a leisure tool rather than a part of education. A tablet, particularly the iPad, cannot replace a computer for schoolwork, and buying an iPad specifically for Inkling and textbooks may not seem a worthwhile investment when the student can find the used textbook in print for less money. However, if schools provide iPads or other tablets because the university wants to integrate interactive textbooks, students may be more enthusiastic.

E-textbooks may emerge slowly as students who are more experienced in learning from a screen enter the university system and as the economy recovers, allowing students to afford expensive technology. Until then, though, I think that e-textbook publishers should not get ahead of themselves in prophesizing huge jumps in e-textbook sales.

Fanning the Flames

I recently read an article about Jonathan Franzen claiming that e-books are damaging society ( and Franzen asserts that e-books are impermanent and too open to alteration and change. He enjoys the durable quality of books, that if you spill water on a book it’s still readable (usually) and that most of the things in our lives today are so fluid that we need an unchanging medium. The ability to alter an e-book concerns Franzen, and he contends that “serious readers” aren’t satisfied with the malleable and temporal nature of the e-book; serious readers are enjoying a specific text in a specific time and place that was meant to be printed in ink, not read on a screen.

I’m probably allowed to see myself as a serious reader, and I have a Kindle, so I take a little offense to Franzen. I have to make a concession to Franzen: he sold three million copies of his first book, so I’m going to give him his due. A man of his skill is allowed some latitude in making such proclamations, and his expertise makes him somewhat of an authority on the subject. In short, he’s a serious reader and writer, so I’m not going to question his personal opinion.

But I am going to take issue with his blanket generalization that all serious readers are dissatisfied with the e-readers. I read both on my Kindle and print books. Each have their merits and their drawbacks. I received my Kindle as a Christmas present back in 2009. I love my Kindle; it’s light, cute, and portable. For someone with so many books, I like knowing that when I pack my bag to travel (which I do quite often), I’m not going to be weighted down by several books. Writers who do serious amounts of research for their books such as Eula Biss and Amy Tan enjoy the iPad and Kindle, because they can travel with massive amounts of books and articles on a single lightweight device. As a CNF writer, I do a fair amount of research for my essays, and sometimes I just can’t keep all the necessary materials with me.

When I told my friend that I received a Kindle for Christmas, she was temporarily incredulous. “You? A Kindle?”

“Yeah, why not?”

“Are you still going to buy books in print?”

“Of course. I’m not planning on switching exclusive to an e-reader.”

“Okay good. Because a writer like you just wouldn’t seem right without a lot of books in your home.”

I believe that no room is truly complete without a few books. I believe that books in printed form are beautiful, living things and holding them in our hands and reading them is to connect to the human experience.  Reading taps into the human story, the one story that encompasses what it means to be human and alive. Print books are important to preserving cultural heritage and staying connected to thousands of years of human history. From cuneiform to hieroglyphs to the alphabet, the written word is enduring, what links the past to our present.

And of course I believe we should still continue reading print books. We do miss something when we read from a screen and lose the interaction with the page. We sacrifice some of our relationship to the books, when we press a button instead of turning a page, when we highlight with a cursor rather than underline with a pen, when we set aside a book by flipping a switch rather than closing a cover. The physical connection between our hands and the printed book is delicate and precious. We should do what we can to preserve the magic of that feeling.

But at the same time, “serious readers” (I’m not even sure what that means) can still engage a text, even if it’s on a Kindle or a Nook or an iPad. One could even argue that serious readers benefit from the advent of the e-reader–they can buy books more quickly and more easily with less money. Browsing is easier online (although I do sometimes miss my frequent trips to the bookstore), and downloading a book happens almost instantaneously. Maybe we should have to work more to acquire a book, but I think breaking down the barriers between discovering a book and reading it is worth the transition.

Although I don’t know if I qualify as a “serious reader,” I think my attachment to books might put me into that category. I’m a writing major; I read both on my own and for school on a regular basis. I have a life-long love affair with words, so yeah I’d say I’m a serious reader. I do miss being able to loan out books I like; you can’t just say, “Here, take my Kindle for a few weeks and read this book.” But still, the Kindle is a way to read many books at once and not break your back in the process.

Franzen also talks about how those who e-publish don’t put the same painstaking effort into getting the words just right and making the language appear just so on the page. He believes e-publishing makes room also for “sprinkling” classic works with advertisements and liberal editing. Those who publish online won’t put as much thought and effort into correctly formatting and modifying a classic text for e-consumption. I’m not a publisher, and I don’t work with re-formatting print text to e-text, but blaming publishers for taking a classic and essentially perverting it for profit is unfair to the publisher and the consumer. And on the subject of classics–books should be accessible and enjoyed; I dislike classics worship as though they’re sacred and untouchable. The reason classics are classics is that they effectively tap into the human experience that I mentioned earlier. They can adapt with the times; they’re meaningful and applicable years later. Maybe they should be put into e-reader form so that they can continue to reach and affect future readers.

Plus, those who self e-publish view the work they’re publishing as their brain child, their opus. They will not skim over the details or cut corners for the sake of being on the Internet. Your credibility is on the line when you e-publish; lots of major errors put your reputation in jeopardy because your ethos as a writer is at stake. Franzen underestimates the dedication of those who self-publish online and the amount of effort and labor writers lovingly pour into their work.

So here’s what I have to say to Jonathan Franzen: make your own Luddite opinions on the e-reader revolution, but e-readers are probably here to stay. The publishing world is currently experiencing serious growing pains as it acclimates to this new reading environment. Speak for yourself, Jonathan Franzen, because the serious readers of the world remain dedicated, devoted, and faithful to the written word, no matter the format.

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