Friday, April 11, 2008

Reading in the Great Outdoors

For my family, a large part of nature's attraction is that it offers is a great place to sit and read. There is nothing quite like spreading out a blanket on the lawn and sitting with a good book or magazine. Breezy spring days are especially pleasant after being cooped up inside all winter.

I heard a report on National Public Radio yesterday where the guests debated the future of the printed book. They discussed how computer use is changing the way children read. More and more kids do their primary reading on the computer, rather than in book form. Psychologists talked about how the wiring of the human brain is changing due to this major change in the way kids learn. It was a fascinating discussion about the future of books, the future of the computer, and the future of civilization.

As former librarian with a master's degree in library science and as a bibliophile, I have a keen interest in this topic. In my first professional job as a librarian, I was also the library's archivist and Internet Coordinator. I had my foot in many camps - past, present and future. I do consider myself a techie to a degree, though compared to my husband who works with computers for a living, I am nothing of the sort. I love computers and history. I tend to see the good and bad in moving quickly forward with technology. But I won't go into that here, except to say that it would be more than a shame if we lost the ability to hold a book in our hands and turn the pages.

Those who believe that the printed book should die obviously do not regularly sit in the garden with book in hand. Though I can see how it would be nice to save some trees by not using so much paper, I see little benefit to moving all information to a digital form. Sitting in the garden with a laptop before me does not bring the same sense of peace as a book does. The book's smell, feel, weight, design - in short, it's uniqueness - give me an almost perverse pleasure. This is the same pleasure I feel when I examine an individual plant. To me, a book is a man-made miracle. It is a work of art - a view of the world brilliantly packaged. We can read a book on the surface level, enjoying the author's story as we would enjoy the vibrant colors of a flower. Or, we can dig deeper, trying to read between the lines, forming opinions about the obvious and looking for the not so obvious meaning behind the author's words. This is analogous to the way I sometimes settle back to enjoy an overview of a garden, yet other times the garden experience makes me think about nature's handiwork, the future of the environment, or some other deep topic.

I've never had quite the same inner stirrings for a computer, though I know my husband probably has. He was taking them apart and putting them back together by the time he was ten. He is fascinated by the inner workings of electronics. That is how his brain is wired. Mine is not. Why do we have to settle for one way of thinking? I think that he and I make a very complementary team.

There is room in this world for books and computers just as there is room for peonies and pansies. Each has a place. Think how well-rounded our children will be if we transfer appreciation for all forms of information in our world. The book promotes linear thinking. The computer promotes multi-tasking and non-linear thinking. Both are beneficial depending on the time and you really want to sit in your hammock and read from the computer? What would happen to your electronic reading device if you fall asleep there anyway? I have visions of it crashing to the floor. Dropping a book would be much less expensive if nothing else.

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