A Good, Old-Fashioned Book

I was talking with a group of teachers this week about the video, "A Vision of K-12 Students Today." While the video sensationalizes a bit, I do believe it makes for an excellent dialog starter.

In my discussion, one teacher noted that while she believed that technology is important in our current culture, she felt that it was very sad that technology is pushing something as important as reading aside. She noted that she wanted kids to do "actual reading, not listening to Harry Potter for 5 hours on an iPod." Other teachers lamented what technology is doing to reading, and a few noted how terrible it is that we might be losing the experience of reading a book.

I've been dwelling on that thought quite a bit the past few days. I am hearing from many within education that technology is disrupting what is really important for students and that we're diluting the "real" learning. It's interesting to probe this rationale with these individuals to see what they are most concerned about losing. I've had some say we simply can't afford to lose the act of reading from a book. This new technology, they maintain, is causing us to be lazy thinkers, incapable of discerning critical truths in life. Some say the way students read and write with technology today is creating more drivel than value. And many maintain we're losing our ability to communicate and interact face to face.

I wonder what they would say to this piece by Dean Shareski. How would they respond to the thought that the book was actually one of the greatest disruptions to our social interactions in history?

And I wonder about this idea of reading from a book. I don't ask this glibly or rhetorically. I ask it genuinely. Is there something that is too inherently valuable about the specific act of reading from an analog book that we can't afford to lose?

This NPR piece evidences the fear many seem to have when considering the loss of books. To me, the most telling bit comes right at the end.

"Without the books, you kind of lose the feel of a library," Akers says. "It's a great study place, but I don't feel like I could read here anymore."
"And also, it's not really quiet anymore like a usual library is, anyway," Pacheco says.
"Yeah, a lot more distractions," Akers chimes in.
Whether their school is the vanguard of the 21st century or not, some Cushing students are still eager for the "shush" of a librarian and immersion in a good, old-fashioned book.

I'm most intrigued about what "a lot more distractions" means. Is it that people are talking about what they are reading? Interacting one with another to dissect the thoughts and ideas coming from the literature they are reading? Or is it just that the electronic text readers cause people to talk about unrelated topics or create unrelated distractions that inhibit the free sharing and interchanging of ideas? I wonder.

If people are trepid about losing books, what is it they are fearful of? What is in the act of reading from a "good, old-fashioned book" that has inherent value? I'm undecided at present. I'm earnestly trying to figure out if its the very act of reading from a book that matters, or the ideas we glean from the material that is the point.

If it's the latter, does it matter if something new comes along and displaces the analog book if it allows for richer, more dynamic interchanging of ideas?

In the end, is it the book that is the important piece of the equation? At this point, I'm left to ruminate on the question,

What is it, exactly, that the world would lose if we lost all our good, old-fashioned books?

**Author's Note: This post is not meant to be a direct response to Steven Anderson's previous post. I read his post just as I was publishing this. If you haven't read his piece, I do recommend it as I believe it adds further insight into this discussion. It would appear this was simply a topic that needed to be talked about today.