To Kindle or Not to Kindle - Part 2


To read 'To Kindle or Not to Kindle - Part 1' please click here.

When it comes to reading fiction one can read a printed book or read a book on an eReader. The latter have been evolving since they were first introduced in 2007 to now support features such colour screens and dictionaries. They allow you to change the font size and brightness of the screen. The introduction of reading apps has eliminated the need for an eReader and you can now read a book on any tablet device, including your phone. I have a Kindle but I don’t enjoy reading on it. I belong to the school of thought that gets a kick out of the feel and touch of a book. I bury my nose in a book to inhale its heady scent that takes me back to my school library, and the promise of a story well told. But could my preference for a printed book be put down to my being old school and therefore old fashioned? Or is there more to it than that?

To clarify my thoughts and arrive at a fair assessment, I drew up a pros and cons list of reading in the digital and printed medium - 

Digital Books - Pros:

  • Facilitates instant gratification.

  • It has built-in dictionaries and so improves vocabulary.

  • It occupies less space in your bag.

  • A large number of books can be stored on a tablet.

  • Readers can customise the font size.

  • It’s environmentally friendly.

  • It can be read in the dark.

  • Books are cheaper in eBook format.

Digital Books - Cons:

  • The hardware or eReader is expensive.

  • It facilitates digital reading that teaches us to read ‘light’ rather than deep.

  • Instant gratification delays the development of the control function of the brain.

  • When you buy an ebook you only buy a license to read the book - you don’t own the ebook. This means that if ever the ebook provider shuts down (it happens: the most recent case is that of Microsoft books shutting down) the  reader’s entire library is deleted and you have no recourse to your books. 

  • You cannot ‘lend’ books to friends and family. 

  • Research suggests that reading from a lighted screen at night could lead to disturbed sleep. 

  • You lose the tactile experience of reading the book. There is an effort that goes into designing a book - from the quality and texture of paper used, the ‘feel’ of the cover in terms of illustration and texture, the typeface chosen... - all of these contribute to reading enjoyment and appreciating a book more fully. 

  • When reading, a child does not have a sense of how much of the book is left (the percentage indicated has no meaning for a child). This is an important aspect for a reluctant reader or one who is only recently gaining in confidence.  

  • If the book has illustrations or photos, very often it is either distorted or does not appear correctly in the reading device.

Printed Books - Pros: 

  • Facilitates ‘deep reading’.

  • The tactile experience of feeling and turning pages enhances the sensory experience of reading and improves cognitive ability.

  • Deferring enjoyment of a book helps build the control function of the brain.

  • You can share books with friends and family. 

  • You own the books forever - as long as you want it. 

Printed Books - Cons: 

  • Books are bulky and heavier to carry around.

  • They take up large amounts of space both in your bag and on your bookshelf.

  • Books are more expensive than eBooks.

  • Easier to dispose of - you only have to press the delete button.

When I weigh the pros and cons, what stood out for me was that what we gain in terms of convenience and instant gratification, we lose in terms of the depth of reading. For me, depth wins hands down. But I came up against a hard truth – that it is easier to do research online. I don’t even know where to look for material anymore if I had to do offline research. The breadth of research and types of material available online on any topic is simply breathtaking. So the truth is that we are not going to stop reading research materials online anytime soon - it’s simply too convenient. I also think that given the need to consume news as it occurs and the eagerness of news aggregators to make it happen, it means that we are increasingly going to read our news on an online platform.

So final final conclusion? Reading the printed word is important to build the habit of deep reading and grow the control centres in our brain, but digital reading is indisputably convenient and cheap. 

So, does digital reading spell the death knell of the printed book?

As always, the answer is more nuanced than a simple yes or no. The key lies in adopting a balanced approach and distinguishing between reading for pleasure and reading for research, and understanding that reading guidelines for kids have to be stricter. 

When it comes to kids and reading for pleasure i.e. reading fiction, we can and should stick to printed books. It checks all the boxes for building the deep reading habit in a child, it enhances the development of the brain and is a deeply sensory experience. It sows the seeds for the shoots of creativity, critical thinking, and empathy  to take root in our children. Good children’s literature, especially the kind suggested by our ‘Just Right Books’ Search Engine deserves to be read in its printed format where you linger on words and savour the writing. Nothing can compare to the joy of seeing your child reading a book oblivious to all that is going around him or her. Does this mean that you have to toss out that expensive eReader that was gifted to junior for his birthday? I’d argue that it has its limited uses – some of our recommended books are not available even on online book stores or if your child is into reading a popular series that is not available in libraries, perhaps you could opt to (cheaply) download it on your eReader. One thing I would like to emphasise here is that if you want to opt for either an eReader or a tablet like an iPad or Phone, always opt for the eReader. It’s the lesser of two evils. The backlight in eReaders screens is friendlier on your child’s eye than the blue light on tablets screen, and an eReader is lighter to carry and hold, thus reducing chances of strain on young wrists. And – this is very important – digital reading in any format must be banned at least an hour before bed as it disturbs the quality of sleep. Sleep is critical for everyone but it’s especially important for children and teenagers; it is the time when the brain builds its neurons and the body repairs itself and eliminates toxins. 

To answer my final question - will your child be left behind if he is not trained early enough to navigate the digital world? Digital media creators design user experiences that are so intuitive that even a child can use  them. I’ve seen babies in prams who cannot walk, swiping screens, and playing games. This generation of children seems to be born with the ability to understand navigation in the digital world, so hold off the digital world from them for as long as you can. 

In summary, the three key takeaways to guide your reading habits in children are : 

1.     Reading for pleasure– Stick to reading fiction in the printed format except under rare circumstances. The advantages to your child are too many to ignore. 

2.     Reading for research- Digital reading is unavoidable especially when it comes to doing research – the breadth, scope, and formats of information available on the internet are infinite. Keep a strict watch on your child and built-in safeguards for them to do the research; an innocent keyword like ‘flag of America’ can throw up pornographic images. If you’d like some tips on teaching your child to research safely and more effectively click here. 

3.     Reading for news– for now, encourage your child to read the news in the printed format. The deep reading involved will give them a better understanding of the topic under discussion. As teenagers, they will resort to reading on their phone in any case. 

Maybe now is a good time to segue into another question that might have come to your mind. “So are there alternate ways of reading a book? What about audiobooks? Are they good for my kid? Where can I get good audiobooks for my child?” 

Good question, and if you are keen to know, write to us; we'll post an article with information and advice that addresses your questions.