Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
“My grandmother reads those paper whatchamacallits. I think they were called books…”
This is what I hear in my mind whenever I see a toddler deftly maneuvering through game apps and pushing/sliding/toggling/dragging digital buttons on the sleek surface of an iPad. The spectacle sends cold ripples of anxiety up my spine.
I’ve always praised Apple products for being remarkably intuitive, but I never meant it like this. In terms of literary culture, I feel that the digital revolution is one huge generation gap in the making. I will admit that my imagination has a tendency to overreact. The notion that “books” as a noun will sink into anachronistic obscurity seems unlikely, but I make no promises about “books as we know them today.”
Perhaps in the not-so-distant future, “books” will automatically refer to digitally rendered “ebooks.” Paperback and hardcover will then necessitate specification as “print books” or, God forbid, “antique books.”
In Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives, John Palfrey and Urs Gasser elaborate upon the lifestyle of these “Digital Natives,” individuals born after 1980 who live alongside and through networked digital technologies:
There is one thing you know for sure: These kids are different. They study, work, write, and interact with each other in ways that are very different from the ways that you did growing up. They read blogs rather than newspapers. They often meet each other online before they meet in person […] They get their music online—often for free, illegally—rather than buying it in record stores […] And they’re connected to one another by a common culture. Major aspects of their lives—social interactions, friendships, civic activities—are mediated by digital technologies. And they’ve never known any other way of life.
Do I consider myself a digital native? I suppose so, but just barely. I am twenty-seven years old. I vaguely remember being introduced to the Internet in the early nineties while I still lived in Maryland. Looking at the blinking screen of the family IBM, my mind quietly wrapped around the idea that it was possible to be in two places at the same time. I could be in Maryland and California. Maryland and New York. Maryland and Florida. When I was a teenager, I came to see the Internet as a world of its own. By the time I graduated from the University of Michigan, it had become the only “place” where I could have a permanent address—my email address.
My childhood was also intimately connected to the technology of generations before my own—some farther flung than others. During power outages, I would crank the handle of the antique Victrola phonograph in the living room and listen to scratchy recordings of Oklahoma. Then there were the Belinda Carlisle LPs which belonged to my older brother (though he denies it now). I wrote on typewriters before transitioning to computers for my book reports.
Compare this to the technological milieu into which “iPad babies” are born. “Baby’s first iPad,” a Slashgear article written by Philip Berne in 2010, does well in highlighting this newest generation of digital natives:
The first thing my son says when I come into his room in the morning is “iPad.” He’s not quite two years old. He can talk in some basic sentences, and will repeat just about anything you say. He can’t dress himself yet, except for his shoes, a pair of Crocs, which are easiest for toddlers to put on themselves. He’s a wiz with the iPad. At first, I was impressed when he could simply unlock the screen. Now he can navigate to his favorite apps, open the photo album, and even manage some pinch-to-zoom gestures when he wants to see faces up close. He can’t yet peddle a tricycle, but he can already catapult an angry bird, though he hasn’t yet killed any pigs. Any day now, those pigs will pay.
Now that the new iPad is out, the question remains for many users what to do with the old one. One suggestion—put forth by the Los Angeles Times—is to hand it over to the children in the family. “In a recent study,” states the article, “PBS KIDS found that almost 25% of parents of children ages 2 to 10 say they hand their personal tech devices off to their kids.”
Appazoogler Molly Trover eloquently discusses the implications of this in her post “The digital vs. print debate: Children’s books” so I will continue the dialogue by saying that the rise of digital reading and enhanced ebooks is a good thing. It might very well be a necessary thing.
I used to believe that the technology of a print book was beyond improvement. But then an Appazoogle reader sent me “Kara,” a tech demo released by video game developer Quantic Dream to showcase its new motion capture technology. I realized how naïve I might have been. While I don’t want print books to die out, I also don’t want them to be left in the dust while other forms of media experience an evolution that is both mind-boggling and beautiful.