Six Children and No Theories

Covering parenting and child development issues

Out of Print?

Written by Lisa Lawmaster Hess, Community Blogger | Apr 30, 2013 9:12 AM

"One literacy researcher describes the current generation not as “digital natives,” but as “digital doofuses,” who retain very little of the information they glean from skimming." (Jenny Shank, Mediashift)

Everywhere I turn, there is discussion about e-books. Given the fact that I'm an author and educator who spends a lot of time online, I'm not surprised that I frequently "run into" these conversations, many of which demonize the rise of the e-book.

I'm at an age and stage in life where it's quite interesting to watch this development unfold. I grew up going to the library on a regular basis. My first job was a volunteer position in the children's room of my local library; I was in eighth grade at the time. My first paying job, just a few years later, was in a secondhand bookstore called The Paperback Exchange. Customers could exchange their used books for store credit and leave with a bag full of used books at less than half the cover price of new ones. Seems readers were looking for a bargain even then - and no one considered this subversive, or the beginning of the end of publishing as we know it. In fact, many people kicked themselves for not thinking of it first.

I went on to work in my college bookstore for five years, and to take a summer job at a local Encore Books, now sadly defunct. I loved books and magazines - still do - and collected them like many animal lovers collect strays - I know I don't need any more of them, but this one is just so promising - and so it comes home with me.

As an adult, I'm living out my dream of being a writer, having published two books traditionally through an educational publisher along with many articles, first in magazines and newspapers, and then online. My first novel is coming out next year - e-book and soft cover - a year or so after my first book went out of print, then discovered new life in an electronic version. It's ironic, but exciting.

What got me thinking about all of this today was a link I found on the PBS Facebook page to an article about documentary called Out of Print, which "explores how e-books are changing how we read." The documentary looks interesting, exploring the impact of e-books from developmental and neurological perspectives, as well as including the views of historians and authors, and the literacy researcher quoted at the top of this post.

As a parent of a child in this current generation, this quote gave me pause. Is my daughter destined to be a "digital doofus," unable to read anything longer than the length of text that fits on her iPhone screen?

Two Christmases ago, we bought her a Kindle so that she could continue to indulge her avid reading habit without our needing to add a library annex to our house. Like her parents, she loves to read, and is at loose ends without a good book at hand. Like her mother, she is a book collector, collecting books not for their monetary value but because of the value they have added to her life, and so parting with the books she has loved (and there are many) is difficult for her.

The Kindle has opened up a world of e-books that have taught her an important lesson: not everything that gets published is good. In her reading travels, she has  stumbled onto fan fiction and many self-published e-books that have left her with an impression - and a resolve to stop reading and close the book. Books that would not have made it past the Mom censor have slipped onto her Kindle on those evenings when her desire to read was strong but her budget was faltering (we knew better than to allow her free reign with a credit card in a bookstore), and the access to subpar work was too good to pass up.

As a parent, I wish my daughter had not had these reading - ahem - adventures, but I realize that they've made her not only a more discriminating buyer, but a more discriminating reader as well. While I had no problem being the book police when she was small - I wouldn't have had it any other way - I realize that she needs to find her own way in the wide world of books. Besides, I trust her enough to know where to draw the line, especially since I've seen the expression on her face when she finds something that she deems inappropriate or disgusting.

Despite these forays into e-books good and bad - or perhaps in part because of them - my daughter remains an avid reader. When we make our weekly excursion to Target, she frequently makes a beeline for the book department, then meets up with us later carrying a stack of books that we narrow down to fit both taste and budget. Despite a love for texting and Skyping and access to many electronic devices on a minute-by-minute basis, my daughter shows no signs of becoming a digital doofus.

Will all of this e-access re-wire our brains, dumb us down and cause the collapse of the publishing industry? While I haven't done the research, I believe these things can happen only if we allow them to. As long as there are people of all ages who want to do more than text and Skype, who choose to buy books that they can hold in their hands as well as (or instead of) those that are digitally delivered, and as long as there are parents and grandparents and teachers who read to children and instill in them a love of the written word, literacy will flourish. It may not look the same, but not all change is bad.

And, because PBS does the research and assimilates it beautifully, I look forward to watching Out of Print. Perhaps I'll even be able to convince my daughter to watch it with me.

Unless, of course, she's wrapped up in a book. 

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  • claudzilla5 img 2013-05-01 08:25

    "these things can happen only if we allow them to." This is the key, absolutely. I hear people bemoaning the loss of good manners and all sorts of other things in today's youth, and I think, well, what can we do about it? We can expect better, expect more, and tell the youth in our lives what our expectations are. We can encourage the behaviors we want to see, and speak up when we see bad behaviors.
    And, we can demonstrate the behavior we want to see! I am sure your daughter's love of reading comes largely seeing and wanting to emulate the habits of her parents.
    thanks for this article, Lisa. You always make me think.

    • Lisa Lawmaster Hess img 2013-05-01 14:56

      What a lovely compliment, especially since some days I'm not sure about my own thinking!

      You draw a great comparison - kids are absolutely not going to learn these things by osmosis!

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

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