Everyone says the iPad will be a game-changer—and they are probably right. While I fervently believe that great technology can improve and enrich our lives, I must confess I have mixed feelings about the iPad.
Many people thought radio and television would bring high culture to the living rooms of average homes. They didn’t anticipate Bart Simpson, Jerry Springer, and professional wrestling. Likewise, the iPad could spur book consumption. But will eBooks exercise our minds—or merely dazzle our senses?
I fear that the iPad marks the dawn of an era dominated by interactive, multimedia books. The emphasis will be on the visual presentation rather than the ideas expressed in the text. A good analogy is the difference between a great novel and its movie version.
When I see the movie (multimedia) version of a classic novel (text), I may or may not be entertained, but I almost always end up preferring the book. When I read the book, I get to imagine many details about the characters and settings. I can savor the author’s use of language. And most important, I am the one who interprets any messages that the writer may have been trying to convey.
When I watch a movie, I don’t get to use my imagination nearly as much. I often feel I am presented with caricatures of people and time periods that were gradually revealed over the course of hundreds of pages in the book. To wit, I find myself stuck with someone else’s interpretation of the book.
Most modern educators seem to feel that interactive multimedia provides a superior learning experience. I’m not so sure. When I read non-fiction I must integrate the information with what I already know. And it is up to me to analyze the information and determine how it should be used. When I encounter an interactive multimedia presentation, I often feel that decisions about what’s important and why it’s important were made for me.
There are other reasons to be concerned. During the 1990s, Newt Gingrich proposed giving laptop computers to the poor. My fear is that he was simply ahead of his time. It’s not hard to imagine that when global eBook reader sales reach several hundred million units per year, politicians will propose giving eBook readers to every public school student in the U.S. This is a bad idea for at least two reasons. First, it’s not the proper role of government to be buying products for citizens. Second, eBooks issued by public schools could easily be used for indoctrination purposes--and probably would be.
My understanding is that if you want to play a published audio book on Amazon’s Kindle or Apple’s iPad, you must purchase the audio book separately. However, it seems inevitable that good quality text-to-speech capability will become common on these readers. If most people would rather have books read to them, that’s their choice. (Having taken Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics, I’m convinced we can take in information more rapidly with our eyes.)
But if most people prefer Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World, where does that leave the rest of us?