Library Musings

I feel like my lifetime has given me an interesting vantage point on issues of education, popular culture, and technology.

I remember a primitive sort of coding that I used to make our family’s Commodore 64 mimic the sound of a slide whistle or the howl of a wolf. I remember the early days of the internet, when even the concept of e-mail seemed revolutionary. I remember the introduction of the Video Cassette Recorder (VCR), Compact Discs (CDs), and cordless telephones.

I remember openly scoffing at the idea, shared in an Introduction to Telecommunications lecture in 1995, that each individual would someday have his or her own telephone that they’d carry with them wherever they went. My thought at the time was, “Who’d want to be available at all times?!?” Just a few years later, though, I was an eager part of the crowd transitioning to Palm Pilots (electronic organizers), and eventually to Blackberries and iPhones (smartphones).

My generation is made up of digital immigrants. Our ranks have included a lot of innovators — but the analog world is our native land. We’ve become naturalized citizens, as we’ve adapted to the new world of electronic technologies and internet activity.

But today’s teenagers and young adults — like the college students in the church I pastor, and even my own children — are digital natives. Using electronic devices is second nature for them. So this makes it extra-confusing for me when I realize that there’s one area of electronic, internet-enabled technology that I’ve embraced but most of today’s younger generations have not.

Why haven’t today’s college students and twenty-somethings latched onto e-reading technology? I personally think it’s amazing! The ability to consolidate a whole library to a single device seems so practical and pleasant that I’ve gone “All In” with checking out e-books from the library and purchasing e-books when adding to my own personal library. Especially when it comes to studying the Bible (the book around which I’ve built my life and my career), I’ve found it so nice to keep all my study resources in my pocket at all times. At any given moment, I’ve got multiple versions of the Bible in my phone (not even dependent upon an internet connection) that can be displayed in split-screen format for everyday reading!

Today’s younger generations are different, though.

Their preference for analog-format books is a consistent trend I’ve observed. If I’m ever buying a book for a younger person (which I often do, because of my vocation), and I ask if they’d prefer a digital copy or a hard copy — they almost always choose the hard copy! And even though I’ve asked many people why they prefer paper to the screen, it doesn’t seem like there’s a really clear answer to the question.

They’ll say they like the tactile sensation of a book in their hands, their fingers on a page. They’ll say they get enough screen time in their life through other activities that they prefer alternative means of ingesting information, when they get the choice. They’ll say that a hard copy just feels more “authentic.” But none of these arguments make a whole lot of sense to me. They can’t even come close to convincing me (the “old school” guy) that “old school” books are better than the new technologies available to us.

And I can’t seem to persuade them to my point of view, either.

I’m curious to see if the reasons for these generational preferences get more clear over time. I’m curious to see if our attitudes will further diverge or more-closely converge over time. I’m curious to see if the e-reading industry will be able to survive the lack of interest from younger people.

I certainly hope so. But then again, I’ve bet on the “losing team” plenty of times before. So we’ll see.

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