The voice of a generation? “I’d rather give up my kidney than my phone”

Link to Guardian blog

As a rule I frown on Daily Mail readers but I understand their twinges of outrage whenever I too get drawn into that warm zone of “what on Earth is wrong with you?” culture shock.

I don’t think that even one of the teens I’ve worked with so far on the eBooks project did not have a mobile phone, and many of them owned ‘smart phones’ – iPhone, Blackberry and other brands that function as multimedia hubs as much as phones.


“We went to Wales for a week at half term to revise. There was no mobile, no TV, no broadband. We had to drive into town just to get a signal. It was really hard, knowing people were texting you, writing on your Wall, and you couldn’t respond. Loads of my friends said they’d just never do that.”

I’m not entirely sure whether this is an extreme case as I’ve watched my niece exhibiting almost identical behaviour. At one point when visiting our house I had to use the netbook that she had spent the previous few hours absorbed in planet Facebook (after her iPhone’s battery died and I ‘forgot’ that I had a charger that she could have used).

The expression on her face was one of complete loss and zombification, as though all life support and reason to exist had been torn from her. In fact she began to exhibit classic zombie-like behaviour, hovering around me with glassy eyes and a hideous vacant expression. When I did return the netbook she took it with a feral intensity, though without the groaning cries of “Brains, brains.

Of course, social death has always been worse than physical death and slow lingering pain for the younger generations, which is undoubtedly why they are prepared to endure alcohol poisoning in order to maintain the status of party animal. Admittedly I have trouble identifying with this state of mind as I consider enforced socialising to be an incarnation of hell similar to torture by sharp implements.

The irony is that the minds behind high tech social networking sites and mobile technology may well have a higher than average incidence of Aspergers or Autism. Whether there is a connection between autistic spectrum disorders, the preference for non-face-to-face socialising, and any long term side effects of this on the general population is something to be analysed by someone more qualified by myself, but I’ve linked the article below.

Wired. The Geek Syndrome

So WTF hs ths gt t do wth lbrrs?

Because reading books is not the same as reading websites or text messages. The first thing many adults say when I explain the eBooks project to them is “Oh, they already do all of that already” or “They know more about these than I do.“.

But is it beneficial to treat a Book as just another application on a phone? We tend to judge content by its medium (correctly or incorrectly) and the iBooks or Kindle app is just another square icon next to Peggle and YouTube and the SatNav. All good quality software but none of it is intended for use beyond a handful of minutes at a time before switching to another app, or game, or a text message and Facebook and then back again.

Although many new novels appear to be deliberately written in short punchy chapters that lend themselves to easy film adaptation, books are still about sustained attention spans, especially books that my test subjects would be studying for their GCSEs.

  • IT follows concepts of ‘convergence’ – devices that combine as many functions as possible. Reading books and studying becomes just another facet of a smartphone or tablet and it becomes more difficult to dedicate time specifically to one task. The easily distracted would do well to lock out the web browser.
  • Using single function eReaders, such as the Sony Reader, potentially has no benefit over a printed book aside from having access to more than one text. An advantage of web enabled eReaders, particularly in education, is the potential to simultaneously link to learning resources on the school VLE or via library portals.
  • There is always a chance that while writing on the Facebook wall, and in the lull between messaging, a couple of paragraphs of a book may be consumed.
  • The concept of multimedia devices centres on interaction, and the act of consuming a flow of new information while not really absorbing any of it for fear of being too ‘full’ for the next helping. The act of studying a book is to (God forbid) consuming the same text over and over, picking out new details and new layers of information. This is at odds even to the most basic eReader function of storing hundreds of books, and certainly at odds with the desire to consume gossip and information from ever digital source in the world.

The moral of the story? I’m not sure. Technology is the future, but it can be diametrically opposed to our own values. We need to have the confidence to declare that we still know how best to read books, and just because social networking and iPhones are popular now, it doesn’t mean that we must translate everything over to them for the sake of fashion and business models.