Sunday, April 25, 2010

Have you hugged your screen today?

I’m done apologizing.

My days of hiding my kids’ Wii remotes when unexpected guests knock at the door are all behind me. The era of ushering the little darlings away from the computer screens when the neighbors stop by is history.

I’m now embracing technology, that 2.0-pound gorilla in the room. I’m getting more comfortable with the place it’s found in my home. While I used to cringe at how tech-savvy my five-year-old was (“He should be reading more books!”), now I’m all right (and a little impressed) with the way he can move so fluidly from beating his big brother at basketball on the Wii to downloading a free game on the iTouch to picking up where he left off playing Spore on the laptop.

What’s made me stop apologizing for all this tech play at my house? It might have something to do with a recent job I started, working with an academic whose area of research is digital media and urban schools. Or maybe it's from reading stories about serious institutions like the MacArthur Foundation’s commitment to digital media and young people’s learning.

But most likely it has to do with a talk I heard Thursday night at 57th Street Book Store in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. The speaker was Stephen Roxburgh, a former children’s book editor and publisher who is at the forefront of the e-book revolution. Having recently founded a new publishing venture called namelos, which can deliver a children’s novel in the click of a button, Stephen talked to us about the current convulsions in the book publishing industry. He likened it to Gutenberg’s arrival on the scene back in the mid-1400s.

“Screens are the future of content delivery, not ink on paper.”

Stephen (pictured here at 57th Street Books) says this on his blog, but it was also the essence of what he discussed with the bookstore audience, made up mostly of SCBWI-Illinois writers and illustrators who have an enormous stake in the conversation. When I heard Stephen – legendary editor of such distinguished children’s authors as Roald Dahl, Madeleine L’Engle, Carolyn Coman, and Uri Shulevitz, to name a few – talk about embracing the book delivered via computer screen as closely as the one bound in leather with gilt pages, I began to question my own thinking.

Technology is changing so rapidly, every day offers tremendous change from the one before. It’s all a bit dizzying. But there is no mistaking that products like Apple’s iPad are revolutionizing the way we live, work, and enjoy our leisure time.

Says Stephen, “. . . a powerful tablet computer with a high-resolution screen and intuitive operating system is the face of the future of reading. . . .”

And when I look at my kids – my five-year-old especially, who has used his daddy’s iTouch like a pacifier, tucking himself into a big chair in the corner of our family room when he needs a little quiet time – I couldn’t agree more.

They are perfectly content to enjoy a picture book delivered by one of the many screens in our house as from the glossy pages of the hardback book they pluck off the shelf. They are equal opportunity consumers of media right now, but I have a feeling that they are going to prefer their books online soon. Because that’s where they have been going for information and entertainment since they could toddle over to a chair, clamber up at a desk, and click the mouse to bring up the Sesame Street website. PBS Kids’ online games have been as crucial to their reading development as the dog-eared copies of Dr. Seuss’s ABCs.

So it’s official. As of Thursday – which was Earth Day, I might note – I am done apologizing for my kids’ screen use. Though we still love paper books in our house (they are everywhere, even wedged beneath the cushion where I am sitting), I am comfortable with my kids reading new ones as well as the classics via a screen.

And if it means we save a few trees in the bargain, all the better. It’s one less thing I have to apologize for.


  1. Fantastic post, Kate! Like you, I've decided to embrace changes in technology because they're going to keep coming, fast a furiously. It will be a long time, though, before I get over reading a picture book on a screen :-(

  2. Nice work, Kate. You make it all sound less frightening! My grandson is only 2 and is already fascinated by all things technological. I think they're born with it these days. Lori is further along than I am:I'm trying to get over reading ANY kind of book on a screen. I think it's going to be okay, I'm just hoping that print books don't disappear entirely, at least not during my my lifetime. I love a good bookstore or library like no other venue!

  3. Congrats on the blog, Kate! Lovely post.

  4. great post! i have also been consumed with thinking about all the stephen said and also added to his insights by reading the recent new yorker article "publish or perish" and listening to the first part of a three-part series on the future of publishing on last sunday's bob edwards' weekend. i do also remember stephen's saying something about the content of video games and the toolkit that gamers (those who build them) use and not being very flattering about the content. i say this here as i think that there's a whole lot to sort through in terms of what the content is that's being delivered on a screen. but that's true of everything yes? all books, just because of their format, aren't equally good. i will also throw in (and am thinking about blogging about this) that yesterday i spent the first hour of my day listening to marla frazee. she was wonderful. i loved what she had to say about the stories that pictures tell. and, of course, she was showing many of her pictures up on a huge screeen in the front of the hall. i ended my day at a concert, organized by the chicago cello society, in which 20 amazing cellists each played short lyrical works. the concert was called "the singing cello: celebrating the lyrical voice of the cello." because we were sitting in the front row, my son and i could watch how cellists breathe, sweat, concentrate, and so much more when they are making their cellos sing. it was breath taking. i do love watching yo yo ma on youtube; however, i don't think that experience comes close to what we felt in that concert hall last night. it was so wonderfully human, and like marla frazee's presentation, it was human beings at their very best. today i am thinking that it's the arts that will sustain and save us -- and maybe, in part, they will do so through what they can offer via screens.

  5. oh, let me add one more other little thing (and it will be tiny): on the bob edwards show, one of his guests did say that he thinks indies will survive (although the next few years may be rough), but that these bookstores play critical roles as community centers (in essence).

  6. Great post, Kate. So much to think about, but, bottom line, I think, is the quality of the content, and you can't scrimp on editorial development if you want to produce good books (whether delivered via screen or paper). The editorial process may not be efficient, but the future of literature is in peril without it. What good is the democratization of delivery if the content is mediocre, or worse? That's why I was encouraged by Roxburgh's insistence that his one loyalty is content. The absence of such loyalty among other e-book providers worries me.

  7. Yay For your blog! So I blogged about this night too, and I think I even used your question about when does a book cease to be a book and become a movie? That was you, right? (I still haven't officially met you!)

    I was a little taken aback by his answer, but it got me thinking. I'm a pretty young mom, so maybe I haven't been as apologetic about screen use as some, but after last Thursday I think I'm coming around to the mind frame that both can be good. We can embrace the new and still love the old. And as Stephen said, it's the content that's important.

    Still, I think there will always be a place for good old fashioned books! An ipad just can't decorate my house in quite the same way and it's not as cuddly.

  8. Hi,
    Thanks again for the program and for your blog, too. My husband, a retired college librarian, is as enthusiastic as Stephen Roxburgh about all electronic gadgets. He has suggested I look into turning one of my unpublished picture books into an iPad app. Now, I'll read what you wrote about that, too! Thanks!

  9. Natalie WeinsteinMay 3, 2010 at 9:46 PM

    You certainly don't need to apologize for your kids grabbing the Wiimote in their freetime. It's certainly better than watching commercial television. But both TV and video games count as screen time, which does require limits.

    Also, a lot of people assume that saving trees equates to saving the Earth. Unfortunately, it's more complicated than that. The massive server farms behind the Internet use huge amounts of electricity--most of which still comes from coal-burning plants. So until alternative forms of energy can replace traditional ones, we can't really say we're doing the Earth a favor.
    Here's a recent Reuters piece on the topic:

  10. The only thing that can remedy this problem is to play real world games online. If you want to get more interesting details about online games, visit this site right here.