“Blah” Books

Oct
2011
19

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After reading this week’s Awakening the Digital Imagination piece–Kay and Goldberg’s “Personal Dyamic Media”–I am going to try to dig out my old VTech Precomputer 2000!

VTech Precomputer 2000

I remember receiving this “toy” as a Christmas gift somewhere around 4th grade, and I loved it!  It had 4 levels of instruction about BASIC programming, spelling games, typing games, math games, and more.  I hadn’t thought about this in years, but the Kay/Goldberg piece reminded me of it when they started discussing ways that children could use Smalltalk to program computers with what they thought SHOULD be there.  Perhaps I’ve even avoided Jill’s fate of computer phobia by my early exposure to these sorts of devices and programming!

Regardless, after reminiscing for a moment about my Precomputer 2000, I started to consider some of the other points made in this piece.  For example, the imperative to not treat the Dynabook as a simulated paper book,  and the express goal of the Dynabook to not be worse than paper in any important way (395).  Thinking about the new reading technologies that we do have available–Kindles, Nooks, iPads, etc.–I think that we have largely failed, according to this vision.  Although the possibilities of the Dynabook reach far beyond e-reading, this is what I (as a librarian) automatically jump to.  There’s a LOT of discussion going on in libraries right now about how we handle the e-book and e-reader revolution.  A particularly intriguing piece came out last week that actually scared me a little bit.  E-books have been embraced by publishers as good business models, and libraries have embraced the idea because they can get good deals, and save on storage space.  However, students (and other readers) are reluctant to use e-books because they are actually WORSE than paper books.  Many e-books are nothing more than badly digitized copies of their paper partners; at best, they are bodies of content that allow full text searching and minimal annotating.  Why would anyone want to read that on a computer, or any other electronic device?  We say, “oh, students love it because they don’t have to carry around heavy textbooks, pay less for textbooks, etc., etc.”  But we seem to be missing a huge opportunity here.  And I think Tim identified this exact problem in his blog post for this week.

It’s come up in our class before that metaphors, especially in the electronic world, limit us more than almost anything.  This seems to be the case with e-books, and many other functions provided by the devices available to us.  Why can’t we think beyond the book for something more than the “blah?”  The answer is largely money, and our reliance on the paper metaphor.  I don’t have any solution to this, but I will certainly be thinking about it, especially as my profession engages in a meaningful discussion (and hopefully, negotiation) of electronic information and other content.

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