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Does your child choose gadgets over a humble book?!

 

By Alice Ahearn*

It’s amazing what you can learn from a bit of people-watching. My mother’s favourite example is from a doctor’s waiting room, where she happened to see a small boy sitting on the floor with a comic spread out in front of him. Reaching a panel he wanted to look at more closely, he didn’t pick up the comic and raise it closer to his face, but put a hand to the page and pinched the picture. He attempted a pinch-to-zoom gesture on the Beano.

What does this tell us about the state of society today? A number of things, not all of them bad. Clearly this was a child who had easily got to grips with modern technology: a useful skill, and not a problem in itself. What’s more alarming, though, is that this techology was playing so constant a part in his life that he didn’t, or couldn’t, distinguish a touch-sensitive screen from a physical page. There are all sorts of reasons why this is a problem.

It’s easy to romanticise the purer, simpler nature of the printed book. Personally, I’m much less suspicious of e-readers, now that it’s clear that they won’t be killing off the humble paperback any time soon. But surely we do have a problem when a generation has embraced technology so entirely that they never grasp their own copy of a book, or flick backwards and forwards through the pages, or look at the pictures so closely that they separate into dots. Even worse, when the device they use to read is full of other distractions: games, music, videos, all a few taps away. Reading is so much better when it’s immersive and undisturbed.

Books are beautiful, and you can’t recreate the joy of a shelf full of beautiful books on a tablet, no matter how hi-res or interactive the experience. In a world where – for better or worse – smartphones and tablets are here to stay, it’s crucial that children remember what simple pleasures there are in a book full of pictures that don’t zoom in. We can gain more from the experience of reading a humble book than we ever can from our gadgets.

*Alice is an intern at Tiny Owl.

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