Digital books and digital magazines are not better than their paper predecessors because they’re digital. They’re better because they create a more immersive experience. You are no longer constricted to explaining with words what Beethoven’s 5th symphony sounds like when you can embed a video that visualizes it. You no longer have to jot down a paragraph on paper because you don’t want to ruin the book, you can highlight it and have your highlights automatically summarized on one page. If you don’t understand a word, you can instantly look up the definition without switching contexts, and you can hear the pronunciation of it.
Tablets have changed the way we interact with devices. Keyboards and mice are all good and have their use, but in many cases tapping and making gestures with your fingers or even moving the device around are more intuitive, faster, and more functional. This specific part of the digital evolution was quickly adopted by individual students and has reached entire schools. For example, many schools have digitized the whole curriculum and educational materials. Today many students are using tablets instead of textbooks. Not just schools but almost every department including the municipality, hospitality, medicine, and others have adopted the same.
However, the skeptics have been constantly arguing that “digital is just a distraction” and “digital is harmful”. Some fear an increase in ADHD, others that the easy access to digital poses a hard to resist distraction. The language is another issue, the skeptics are afraid the language will deteriorate as young people start using internet language and abbreviations. Young people will learn the wrong skills- playing games and commenting on Facebook instead of learning handwriting, grammar, and math.
In short, the skeptics see digital as an unnecessary evil that will turn kids into lazy (and thus probably overweight) geeks with short attention span, poor spelling skills, and non-existent handwriting and math skills, spending their days speaking LOLspeak and watching YouTube videos.
First of all, digital is in itself neither “good” nor “bad”. It’s just a tool that allows us to be more effective both as an individual and as a collective. It doesn’t care whether we use it to create weapons of mass destruction, do Justin Bieber mashups or end world poverty. It’s our use of digital that is “good” or “bad”. My imagination is that most skeptics base their assumptions on their own behavior and the behavior of people around them. Just because they find Facebook distracting, or because their kids start using words and language they don’t understand, or because their peers only send them e-mails with funny cat videos they assume that this is what digital is all about. When asked, they often understand the benefits in a highly theoretical manner (“it’s good for companies that can become more effective”) but not on an everyday individual level, nor on a practical business level.
Digital in itself does not make us more or less distracted; it’s not inherently malevolent to our brain. All of that stems from our behavior and our use of digital.
Few people living today would say that “books written by hand are so much better than the printed ones”. Similarly, some people believe that printed books are better than eBooks. That’s what it comes down to: people who think that paper printed books and handwriting with a pen or pencil are important are stuck in the old paradigm. For them, as long as they are alive, the old paradigm will still be around. Nostalgia and habit will keep their skills and ways of working and collaborating the same. That happens and it’s absolutely obvious.
Talking about the language, it doesn’t deteriorate because of the internet but such change is inevitable. One thing is for sure, the language will always be functional. We use language to communicate, and that’s a safeguard. The moment we start using language in a way that people don’t understand, we need to adapt. LOLspeak is funny only when you have knowledge about English spelling and grammar.
Tablets are not killing handwriting, drawing or imagination. Using a stylus and an iPad, kids can learn to write, spell and draw. No longer must they wait for someone to give them feedback before continuing as the software tell them whether the letter “g” was mirrored, or if they misspelled “xenophobe”. YouTube is not only cute kittens and Justin Bieber videos. It’s also an excellent educational tool. Those who claim that have probably never visited YouTube’s education section.
The problem occurs when people caught in a paradigm shift want the next generation to have the same skill set as they themselves have. The world will look radically different years later, as we live in exponential times. Nobody can tell you what we will be doing ten years from now (we don’t even know for sure what our own life looks like a year down the line) but I know that we need to prepare our kids for whatever comes. By teaching them how to use today’s digital tools in a constructive way, we will prepare them for the next generation of tools, and that will prepare them for the next.