While going through the #edcmooc responses to the first week films and literature, I came by a Facebook post by Arwen Mirkwood on books vs. ebooks, and how digital culture may be mastering us. The post is as follows:
It’s not about e-learning, but there is a fact: as internet grows bigger and bigger in our life, books are dying. I am among the students who say that the first thing you do when you are searching for something for your studies is the internet. You can find there books, or simply the Wikipedia. But is that alright? Sometimes I feel that a smart phone can be smarter than me.We forgot how it feels going to library and searching among the books to find the right one and finding other better and better books in the meantime. What is happening to us, why is it happening, and how far can it go?Nowadays, when I go to the library, it’s often only me there in that big building with all the books which are waiting for someone to take them with. It’s very sad.I still love the books and appreciate them, and will the rest of my life, because they were the beginning (the mother) of our knowledge.
This got me thinking… Is this really a good way to look at it in terms of education? First of all, I suppose the internet is the first place kids go to these days to look up information. There is Wikipedia to get your first impression about. But they learn quickly, from their teachers or through bad experiences, that Wikipedia is not always a reliable source of information, neither are all the other websites, really. You still need the classical sources like textbooks, papers, teachers for the correct information. That’s why still need librarians in libraries. Otherwise we need to look up titles (online or in the stacks of books) to figure out whether they are reliable/useful for our project. This is hard to replace, The human expertise of knowing what is relevant, what is useful and reliable and of good quality. So, yes, maybe the printed encyclopedia is dead and kids look online. But it’s good, because most of the sources will be digital in the future, so they better be ready and learn how to judge sources.
Technology has made a lot of things much easier. My parents used to write down their essays in ink without being able to properly erase, so it took them forever to write things down (is that why they went for engineering rather than humanities? I wonder). In high school I still had to write down my homework and my exams. By college, I was typing each and every assignment, sometimes even taking notes on my computer because I typed much faster than I wrote by hand.
Mind you, I still take some of my notes by hand (especially when I read papers on the screen, I write down notes on paper next to the laptop. I still carry a notebook with me for random things that pop in my head. I LOVE the feeling of books, new and old. But I also own a Kindle, and I love it for making it so much easier to read in the train or plane or easy to travel with many books. I love that my e-reader has a built in dictionary, so when I read a confusing text I can actually see the meaning without having to walk up to a dictionary (oooh, another printed thing that will soon go extinct – but students will learn not to use Google Translate).
I don’t believe that books are dying. If anything, books started dying with television and not because of internet. We will get used to reading ebooks (and some of us will always have a printed copy in our library, because -honestly- bookshelves are essential to a nice home. There is even good news, in 2012, the decline of printed book sales have slowed down. And e-book sales are strong. Books are actually doing fine.