I picked this one off David Maybury’s blog the other day. Research done by the National Literacy Trust in the UK has discovered that more kids over there own a mobile phone (86%) than own a book (73%).
All the more reason to produce books that can be read on phones, don’t you think?
I can’t say I was surprised at this statistic. It has become a cultural thing. My baby daughter realized very early on that pressing buttons makes things happen. She can recognize the essential form of a button, despite that fact that they come in all shapes and sizes. She has a passion for remote controls, or poking her finger at anything with a little red LED on it. She knows that sticking her finger onto the screen of my touch-screen phone also makes things happen. This awareness has magnified her potential to cause trouble (at which she is already naturally gifted) many times over. I seriously doubt that I was that aware of electronics that early in my life.
For those of us who grew up surrounded by books – and were plied with them from an early age – it’s easy to forget that we are in the minority. Most kids will see their parents reading something in their daily lives, whether it’s a newspaper, a magazine or even just teletext or stuff on the web – so they will probably end up reading something for pleasure themselves. But not everyone considers reading a book a fun thing to do. And if kids don’t see their parents reading books, and keeping them and leaving them around the house, they’re not going to pick up the habit themselves.
They won’t pick up the habit of reading at length, and in depth. A habit, a skill, that is going to become all the more essential as the text kids read is increasingly consumed online instead of in print. Schools need to be taking this into account right now, but we desperately need parents to get kids connecting with books as early as possible – to nourish their brains and their souls. And to equip them with the skills to deal with all the distractions thrown at them by this insanely distracting world we live in.
I’m a big fan of a lot of the new digital developments, but one serious hazard is that they could leave you with the attention span of a goldfish. And mark my words, GOLDFISH DON’T GET THINGS DONE. It’s hard to succeed in any aspect of life if your concentration levels can only be maintained for as long as it takes to tweet.
And if kids aren’t reading print, then we need to find out what formats they are reading and produce the good stuff in those formats, so they’ll . . . y’know, come across books in their everyday lives. Especially my stuff, because if kids aren’t reading books, then they’re not reading my books, and that’s affecting my income, goddamit. Something has to be done.
But publishers have become paralyzed by the scale of this challenge, and instead of acting quickly to adapt before their business transforms on them, they hardly seem to be acting at all. Glaciers move faster.
Let me run that statistic past you again: 73% of kids in the UK own their own books, while 86% own a mobile phone.
Thankfully, the UK government are on the case. Realizing how vitally important it is to provide access for children to books of all kinds, they are closing ten public libraries in Northern Ireland. This is on top of already closing a rake of them on ‘the mainland’. Well done chaps.