Tue, Jan 12, 2010
The New Paper
Excuse me teacher, books are so last century

By Siva Choy

I AM seriously looking at buying a wireless reading device - an electronic display screen that's about the size of a short paperback novel with half the thickness, which stores up to 1,500 books, daily newspapers and magazines of my choice.

What's even better, it enables me to download a new bestseller in less than a minute while I'm walking to catch a bus.

And what's best is that I pay less than half the bookstore price.

Yet some book lovers I know are aghast at the idea. Yes, you've guessed right - they're all in their 50s and 60s.

And yes, they can't open attachments on their PCs without help from their kids; haven't upgraded their handphones since 1995, and think they'll go blind reading from electronic screens (if they don't die of brain cancer before that, from using handphones).

"Technology is a useful thing, but it doesn't have to interfere with everything," said one book lover.

"Books have served us well for thousands of years, and some traditions should be preserved. I for one will always buy books." (I'm not sure about that. In 10 years' time, buying a book might be like buying a VHS video.)

When Moses wrote down the Ten Commandments, he did it on clay tablets. If that "tradition" had been preserved, you would have needed a truck to carry just the Old Testament.

I'm sure a few "traditionalists" in the tribe would have grumbled about "new technology" when somebody said: "Hey guess what, the Egyptians are switching to papyrus and ink - it's organically grown, much lighter, and slashes handling costs!"

Contrary to popular belief, books have not been around for "thousands of years". Indeed they were rare until about 500 years ago when printing was introduced in Europe.

Until then, every book had been handwritten by monks, toiling away in production lines in dank abbeys.

Even they must have been pretty annoyed at losing their comfy desk jobs, and being made to grow onions instead. "Bah!" they would have said. "New technology indeed! A plague on these pernicious publishers!"

There's one special feature about the electronic reading device that the manufacturers are proud of but of which I am a little suspicious.

The wicked little thing actually reads to you. This means you can just sit back and listen to say, Frankenstein, instead of reading it.

I can see a whole lot of literature students in 2020 "listening" rather than reading that novel, and some of the consequences in class the next day.

Teacher: "Okay, Keats Kang, how do you spell Frankenstein?

KK: "Sorry Sir, I haven't seen the word in print before but it should be Franckanstyne, right?"

We already have a generation that can't spell properly bcse its 2 bc msg-ing n txt-ing like this all the time. When electronic devices replace reading with listening and watching, it's quite likely we may produce literature students who can't spell and who can't exercise imagination because it has all been done for them.

Will teachers have a tougher time?

Well, we're assuming that teachers will still be needed.

Given the advances in robotics, it is quite likely that the world's techno-nuts will devise a robot teacher who (which?) knows everything, will work 24 hours a day for free, never complains, never shows favouritism to pretty students and cleans the school toilets in off-duty hours.

Teachers, like the monks who used to hand-write books, may have to grow onions, or opt for retirement and just... well... read books, I guess.

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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