Thursday, 27 January 2011

The e-reader fence

I'm sitting on the fence regarding e-readers.  The part of me that is a voracious reader and hoarder of books looks at my groaning shelves, and my annual, painful parting with volumes that haven't quite made it into my favourites and thinks it's revolutionary to be able to keep so many books in such a small space.  I even think I could get used to reading with one in bed.

Then there's the part of me that reads with an eye on the sensual, tactile pleasure of it.  There's a thrill to running my finger over the spines of much-loved books, choosing one to revisit; there's the smudges on page 36 of a sad story where I cried when I was fifteen;  there's the untold story in the leaves, softened by time;  there's the awe when turning age-spotted pages of ancient hardbacks; there's the wonder of sharing a book with my children snuggled on my knee, and showing them the sticker in the front that says their Nan had it for a prize when she was four.

In the end, my reservations outweigh my interest at the moment.  As I may have already mentioned, I'm not always on close terms with technology...

  We have interactive whiteboards in the classroom these days.  For those not in the know, they project the laptop screen onto a big screen, but you can touch the big screen to select icons, or write and various other things.  We hailed their arrival with slack-jawed wonder, and oohed and ahhed at the impressive list of things they could do (although, apparently, teaching the kids without a teacher in the room is still a little beyond their remit).  For a year, they more or less lived up to their promise .  Then things began to go wrong.  The relationship got a little strained.  Some mornings they were slow to warm up.  Some days, the laptop and projector didn't appear to realise they were still connected.  It began to get worse.  Sometimes the screen froze, or turned purple unless you wiggled a wire and hopped on your left foot, and buried a sacred herb at midnight in the school garden.

  By now, they've been installed for maybe five years.  (I know; we were a bit behind the rest of Britain in our rural idyll).  The calibration goes off within minutes, so that any attempts to write on it look like a pre-schooler scrawl.  The screen itself is so dim, the children can't see it properly, even with the classroom lights off. The projector has been replaced twice.  The laptop and software has had to be updated twice.  And still, sometimes, it ruins a lesson by refusing to work.  We've all taken to using the traditional whiteboard at every opportunity; it just never goes wrong, and never makes it look like a four year old wrote on it, unless they did. And that's my first problem.  Is an e-reader going to freeze at a crucial moment? Will I ever miss out on the last chapter of a book?

  Secondly: we do sometimes read books on the IWB's at school (when they're working).  The children get that glazed look they do when the tv is on, like they're being drugged intravenously.  It's not such a good look.  It makes me sad.  They wait for the computer to tell them things, and they take it in, but they don't interact the way they do when you show them a book, and they want to jump up and poke the pages, and tell you about the time they went to the zoo, and did you know they saw a spider the size of an elephant there.  The animation and enthusiasm isn't quite the same.  And I'm not sure that's a move in the right direction.

But I'm staying open-minded, and looking forward to seeing if I can fit just a few more books in the book case before the shelves collapse.  I'm sure there's room for at least one more...

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