They Say: Children more likely to own a mobile phone than a book. I Say: Good.

They Say: Children more likely to own a mobile phone than a book. I Say: Good.

I’ve seen this Telegraph article linked to at least seven times amongst my geeky, book reading friends, usually with much anger or sadness or both and a lot of fist shaking. The gist is this: studies say that kids who have access to books at home are more likely to stay in school. Also that kids who had their own books are better readers. But many kids don’t have their own books or access to books in the home, but a ton of kids have their own mobile phones.

While the article is full of people going OH NOES! I am like: dude, this is a wonderful opportunity.

It doesn’t say what kind of mobile phones these kids have. Maybe they’re not smart phones, but I’ll bet a lot of them are. I’ll bet a lot of those smart phones are the kind that utilize apps (even WinMo can handle apps, they are just crappy apps). If the phone has apps, there’s an eBook reading app that exists for it.

Even non-smart phones have the ability to read some eBooks. And given that mobile makers are looking for ways to make non-smart phones more interactive, engaging, and enticing by asking developers to get on making apps for them, too, if your phone doesn’t have the ability to read eBooks, it will soon.

While it’s true that most apps can’t read eBooks with DRM, that should not be a barrier. Let the books be DRM-free or, if you really, truly care, develop some apps that can read ACS4 encoded files and release it to the world.

You say 80% of kids have a mobile but you want them to own books? Then sell them books for their mobiles. You want to run a program to give free books to kids so they’ll read? Budget money for both paper books and eBooks. You want kids to read more? Then you reach them where their interests clearly lie instead of trying to drag them back into the habits of an old and¬†curmudgeonly¬†generation. This isn’t hard.

In other words: stop your whining and do something. Or hush up.

9 thoughts on “They Say: Children more likely to own a mobile phone than a book. I Say: Good.

  1. That should be: “Kids aren’t _not_ reading becasue they’re going “Oh, paper is so out-of-date, that’s what those curmudgeons like!”

  2. Well, a few things:

    That study is correlation and not causation, and I suspect it has less to do with the magical effects of owning books, and more to do with parental attitudes towards reading and studying. Homes where reading and studying are valued are more likely to have books, both for the adults and for the children in the family. One of the biggest predictors of child behavior is adult behavior; that is to say, children model themselves on the adults in their spheres. No shock there. So children who have parents who read are more likely to read themselves, and adults who read are more likely to a) have books at home and b) buy books for their children. Those kinds of parents are also more likely to make studying a major priority for the children, as in, the world fucking _ended_ if I didn’t do my homework as soon as I got home from school, no exceptions, no nothing. You’re home? Here’s your glass of milk, now sit at your desk and do your homework. So, yeah, I’d expect a correlation between book-ownership and academic achievement.

    “According to figures, some 80 per cent of children with better than expected reading skills had their own books, compared with just 58 per cent who were below the level expected for their age group.”

    Well, no shit. I bet kids who are interested in chemistry were more likely to have their own chemistry sets, too. That’s not because chemistry sets cause interest in chemistry. It’s because when you’re good at something, you’re more likely to enjoy it, and thus are more likely to ask for books for presents, etc.

    However, I don’t agree that ebook apps will suddenly promote a wave of reading among cell-phone owning kids. If these kids enjoyed reading and/or wanted to read, they’d have books, household economics permitting. As you say, the medium is not the issue. If they don’t want to read on paper, putting the words on a screen is not gong to magically make them want to read. Kids aren’t reading because they’re going “Oh, paper is so out-of -date, that’s what those curmudgeons like!” They’re not reading because they’d rather be doing other things. That’s a shame, in my opinion, because I think reading provides critical thinking skills, but apps aren’t going to change it.

    1. I agree that apps won’t change the reading habits of kids, but I do think that if the problem as presented is that kids don’t have books yet have cell phones 9for whatever reason, be it parental indifference, child indifference, etc) and you want to solve that problem by getting books to kids, an easy way to do that is with eBooks. If the result of all this hand-writing is an effort to get more kids interested in reading, I think at least you could deliver books to them in a medium they’re already dealing with.

      1. There’s also ease of access to consider. As always, DRM rears it’s ugly head.

        I suspect we’d see a lot more cellphone-as-book use if setting ebook apps weren’t the digital equivalent of a Guantanamo interrogation.

        Sure, there’s decent apps for iPhone OS and Android, but there’s a vast array of other phones that ~could~ be perfectly decent ebook readers if they weren’t buried under enough licensing hobbles to form their own black holes.

  3. of course, I also believe in over teching my kids, and as long as my nine yr old is reading something, I could give a crap if it is on paper or a screen.

  4. Seriously. and it’s not as though if they didn’t have mobile phones, they’d have a bunch of books instead. It’s presented like “parents of kids choose phones over books,” when it could be presented like “okay, there are all these kids who don’t have access to paper books, but hey, they have access to tech, which could give them even more learning opportunity.”

    I mean, I fucking love books, and it fucks me up to think there are kids with no books in their house, but if tech can give them access to books when they wouldn’t have it, yay tech.

  5. I am more than a little tired of the “book ownership/reading as mark of civilization” trope. Books are tools, they are neutral and inert. They do not carry with them some magical moral civilizing force.

    1. Yeah, this. I am a huge fan and proponent of the stuff that goes inside a book—the words, ideas, and so on. But I don’t have particular reverence for the physical object of a paper book, unless it has some specific historical or cultural value. (Gutenberg Bible or first-edition Dickens, sure; paperback copy of Watership Down from the sixth reprinting, uh, no.)

      But I’m a bit touchy on the subject, because a) I love ebooks and consider them to be ‘real’ books as much as the paper-object kind, and b) I once cracked the spine on a reference book so it would lay flat so that I could use it better, and got treated as if I had murdered a puppy. (It was a paperback, still in print, that I owned, no special binding or anything; apparently the sheer fact of its book-shaped-ness meant that I was supposed to privilege its unbroken spine over my ability to use it efectively, though.)

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