E-readers threaten the personality of print

E-readers+threaten+the+personality+of+print

Mirina Garoufalidis

Students use Keynote and other ‘productivity apps’ for mainly Math and practicing language skills. Teachers currently use the iPads to do minimal things like attendance and grading small projects.

Friends and people trying to get work done gather in a coffee shop. The place is abuzz with the hum of technology and constant communication. It’s a typical day.

A family drives to Grandma’s house but gets lost because the GPS took them the wrong way. The two children in the backseat don’t care because they have their iPods to entertain them: the usual.

Siblings fight about who won the World Cup eight years ago and decide to ask Google instead of a person.

A young girl gets an Amazon gift card for her birthday and knows exactly what to get – a book for her Kindle, not a paper book.

Nothing out of the ordinary, right?

Except something is different.

Decades ago, something would have been missing. Computers wouldn’t cover coffee tables. Palms empty of cellphones, friends wouldn’t be texting someone they saw five minutes ago. People would determine answers instead of Google.

Technology has replaced human contact, the need for personality. With information and friends at our fingertips, everything is instantaneous. We get impatient if we can’t find the answer immediately, so impatient that we don’t bother to check if it’s true.

Even in a cozy fourth grade classroom, technology nudges its way in.

For the students of Iris Franklin’s fourth grade class at Fifth Avenue, a math assignment no longer wastes paper.

Every student in the room has their eyes glued in front of them, focusing. How is it possible? They each hold an iPad. By April, the school hopes to have an iPad for every student and teacher.

“I had so much notebook paper left over from last year because we didn’t need it,” Franklin said.

McClain Carter, a student in Franklin’s class, enjoys having iPads.
“I explain the problem and record it here,” she said, pointing to the screen. “On paper I would have drawn it instead.”

There are downsides, of course. Distractions perfectly tailored to grab attention, instant gratification dissolves self control. According to the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, a study in which four-year-olds were offered two marshmallows if they waited, or just one if they took it instantly, proved that self-control directly relates to success later in life.

Before the iPad, the Amazon Kindle arrived in 2007, and the rage of e-books erupted suddenly. The age of information had struck another blow. Books were soon to become extinct, and reading would only be done on electronic devices.

David Fulmer, renowned author of “Chasing the Devil’s Tail” and other mysteries, said: “Early on, when [e-books] first started, there were a lot of people who said that e-books were going to be the end of art books, of paper.”

The e-book market continues to make billions of dollars every year. Borders closed after forty years of being in business in 2011. It seemed as if technology had taken over, and shut down print.

After a series of questioning different age groups, it became evident that each group thought the other used technology more than they did. Adults account for the majority of e-readers, with 29% owning a tablet or an e-reader, while college graduates own 15% more e-readers than high school graduates do. Surprisingly, less than 35% of students at DHS have a Kindle or an e-reader at their house.

E-readers are beginning to take over the reading audience. While print-only readers read an average of 15 books a year, the average e-book reader reads 24 books per year. Publishers are beginning to notice the transition, which could be why 84% already produce e-books, or plan to make the change soon.

Shannon Fortner, editor of the International Reading Association, published a few e-books to test the waters, and now publishes nearly every book in print and in e-book form.

“We recognize that that’s just the way the world is going,” Fortner said. “People are getting used to having the choice between getting electronically and in print.”

Diane Capriola, the co-owner of Little Shop of Stories has no trouble with local business. The sunny shop fills with people. A customer who walks in is greeted with hellos and smiles, not what you would get at a ‘big box’ bookstore. Personality and distinction keep local shops in business, she says. That’s why bigger, impersonal stores may not last as long.

“The staff [at a big-box store] doesn’t know the inventory as well, so they can’t get really passionate about books,” Capriola said. “We have a better pulse on readers. You’re not going to find that at a big store.”

Frank Reese, owner of the adult-targeted bookstore, Acappella Books, agrees.

“People like a smaller store, they like a more personal interaction with the bookseller. We come to know our customers and know what kind of things they’re looking for,” Reese said.

Change is inevitable and necessary in order to survive. A local bookstore has to have something that makes it different from the rest, according to Reese. That’s why Acappella doesn’t sell children’s books, and between the six bookstores surrounding Decatur, not a single one is the same.

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It’s unrealistic for a store to have everything a reader could possibly want, he says.

“People who prefer the store that has every single thing you can possibly want are going to shop somewhere else anyways. Amazon . . . is really the only bookseller that can meet that expectation of having everything,” Reese said.

Hopefully, e-books won’t take complete control over the market of books, and more substantial books will be sold mainly on paper. Still, the question is brought to mind: are books just another trend?

“I think the pendulum always swings back. I really do. I think books are never going to go away,” Capriola said.

Trend or not, Reese says that “[e-books are] just going to take up a segment of books that used to be like supermarket type, airport-reading, just kind of light reading.”

Not everybody has access to an indie, personal bookstore. Not every town has a Barnes & Noble.

“More and more people are living in towns and cities where there’s no bookstore,” author Terra Elan McVoy said. “The best they can get is . . . what they can get at Costco . . . or Walmart. We’re seeing that more and more, so being able to have access to books digitally has a lot more freedom to find what’s right for you.”

According to Capriola, the problem with e-readers, or anything to do with technology, is the short attention span, and the distractions.

“Studies have shown that when you’re online searching for something or scanning through Facebook, your brain actually gets like a surge of endorphin and makes you feel good, so it makes you want to keep doing it,” Capriola said.

The addiction to technology makes us more dependent on it. GPSs with human-like voices impersonate people, leading us astray. We rely on a piece of technology to tell us what we already know: we ask for directions and think a mindless object knows better than us. Technology is beginning to absorb our self-reliance.

“I do worry that parents are so busy that they’re going to think it’s okay to put an iPad in their kid’s hand and think that they’re really reading a book,” Capriola said, “and then forget about that they should be reading with their child.”

But because Little Shop is primarily a kid’s bookstore, the majority of books are picture books, and it’s harder to transfer the importance of picture books to e-books.

“It’ll take a really long time for picture books to make that jump because people want to hold a picture book in their hand and be able to turn the page,” Capriola said. “You can’t duplicate that.”

“There’s absolutely nothing like sharing a picture book in someone’s lap,” McVoy said.

Still, children are becoming more accustomed to technology.

“Little kids now will not know a time where there were no e-books,” Fulmer said. “I believe that does make a difference.”

It’s scary to see a child barely capable of reading teaching an adult how to work an iPad, or an iPhone.

“We do see a lot of younger, little, little kids who are already familiar with iPhones,” McVoy said, “and so little children are becoming a lot more comfortable with this technology.”

To put it simply, a lot of kids like technology, especially the ones in Franklin’s class.

Using the iPads in school is, “more fun, and it’s cooler, and it’s a lot easier,” one student said.

30 Nooks, Barnes & Noble’s e-reader, seemed to be a fitting addition to Fifth Avenue’s library. Students occupy a row of desktop computers. Headphones are in, eyes are glued to the screens, and it only makes sense that e-books are introduced to the library. Not a single student reads a book.

After years of mechanization of the world, it’s only natural to continue that way. But it’s time to have real conversations. It’s time to put down the Kindle and preserve the delicacy of print. Don’t let technology dehumanize us completely.