Soapbox Series: Does Everything Have to Have a Screen?

As I delve back into my reader and spend more time monitoring my Twitter streams, it seems that one of the trending topics is “books on screen.” I’m not talking about books adapted into movies, but book-type products like e-books, digital books, and apps that are stories.

That’s got me thinking about e-Readers and literacy in the 21st Century.  E-Readers as in emergent readers, not digital devices. I don’t own an app-capable phone, a tablet PC, or even an MP3 player, but I do have a Nook (“old school” … chapter books only). Would I feel differently if I owned one of these other devices and my daughter was still an emergent reader? I don’t know, but I’m sure I’m not the only one with these questions, so here goes …

Do we need screens/electronic devices to learn to read?

Yes: Screen reading is a necessary piece of our development as successful, informed individuals.

No: Books for children (like picture books) offer visuals and can be held in their hands just as easily.

Is it hard to sit together with a child and read a screen-book?


Picasa Web photo albumAs a busy parent, how valuable is having entertainment at the ready?

Yes: Having a digital book (or music) at the ready when I’m standing in the grocery line with my 3-year-old would be handy entertainment. It certainly fits better in my purse than a picture book.

No: It is important for children need to learn how to entertain themselves without stimulation.

Are books on screen something we share together, a tool for independent activity, or just something to keep handy as a melt-down preventer?


CD Bank photo Jaypee Rajin on Picasa.comDo screens and devices change the way we model reading for our kids?

Yes: They see us continually looking at a screen, talking on our phone, playing with our computer. We don’t sit together to read aloud or talk about what we see on a page.

No: Our kids see us using our literacy skills: gathering information, communicating with others, etc. They see just how integral reading is to our daily life.

Is “screen time” something to be conscious of or just a fact of life that some of us old timers need to adjust to?

Charlie Anzman DIgital and Tech DailyDo digital devices affect other elements of literacy?

Yes: Typing is not writing (i.e., forming letters); and auto-correct doesn’t help them learn spelling and punctuation rules. When we’re focused on our screens we’re not looking at other people and may not even hear them when they’re speaking to us.

No: Texting has been shown to extend/reinforce literacy skills, and kids can still formulate their thoughts.

Is there a long-term impact on interpersonal skills when devices become a primary means of communication?

My hope is that these questions lead to more questions and discussion. Those “yes” and “no” responses are merely thinking-out-loud observations. Frankly, I don’t know what the answers are. I watch with amazement and frustration at how my 9-year-old jumps to the computer for answers to her questions (big and small) and for her primary means of entertainment.  She grew up with books and loves them, but will borrow the Nook every chance she gets.

What do you think the future of reading is for our kids?


Image credits (images above also link to source)

Grocery Cart – ShopCart2 by Gillian Lightstone on

Infant watching adult typing – CD Bank by Jaypee Rajin on

iPhone – iPhone 3G by Charlie Anzman (Digital and Tech Daily)

17 responses to “Soapbox Series: Does Everything Have to Have a Screen?

  1. Technology is changing the way we operate, and I struggle with how it should fit into our reading routines, especially since it seems I receive at least one request each day to review some app or another. At this point, we have not purchased any type of e-reader. Personally, I think it would be just one more thing to juggle in my already busy life. Plus, I don’t like the fact that you never own any concrete…just digital files.

    I also wonder how all this technology will impact learning. Our schools are adding Smart Boards to the classrooms, kids take standardized tests on the computer…by the time my kids reach high school, I have a feeling that school life will have changed drastically. That’s why, in their youth I’m trying to keep things simple. I don’t think all that technology is necessary at this point. Family time without technology is needed.

  2. Fantastic post Terry. Very thought provoking. I don’t have an e-reader, and I’ve owned a mobile phone for less than a year so I guess I’m firmly in the physical book camp. I can imagine how ereaders could be useful – if I had a long, tightly packed daily commute but I can’t imagine ever feeling that joy you can get from holding a book in your hand, smelling it, shelving it, reorganizing where it goes, fortuitously rediscovering it when a pile falls over…
    Zoe @ Playing by the book recently posted…Pannukakku- candles and dinosaurs singing heavy metal!My Profile

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  4. I LOVE how you structured this post, Terry! These questions need to be asked. I can’t answer all of them in a brief comment, but my theory is that moderation is the key. Too much of anything can be harmful in my eyes, especially when it happens to be screen time.

    But honestly, our children will be spending much of their lives plugged in, so why the rush? They’re growing up all too fast as it is these days. Parents are really missing out on a special experience if they don’t share the joy of reading picture books-in-print with their young children. So, I’m thankful that I didn’t have such tech toys available when my children were younger. They would have been more of an obstacle to learning than anything else.
    Dawn Morris recently posted…Coming Up for AirMy Profile

  5. I know my own reading has changed drastically. Although I don’t read fiction on a screen, I read non-fiction for hours daily via my computer screen. That alone is a huge change as my days used to be weighted far more toward fiction in novels. But the internet has opened up a world of learning to me and I’m delighted about that. Like Zoe though, reading a real book is a sensory joy to me. And after hours watching the computer screen, I turn to real books as a rest for my eyes.

    I do worry about the impact of too much screen time on humans, especially kids. I think it’s important to have balance. I think if I had a young child, I would be fine with having picture books and educational apps to share via an iPad or such, especially if my child needed something to do in the queue at the supermarket or some place I’d forgotten to pack a book. And if my sub teen or teen preferred to read via a device rather than a real book, I think I would just be glad he’s reading!
    Book Chook recently posted…Make a Comic at Digger and the GangMy Profile

  6. I think the problem with coming up with clear answers is that there simply are no absolutes here. Technology is not going away, so “literacy” in terms of being able to use those tools is one thing as is being able to read/write with and on them. Does this replace the need for other types of reading/writing? I don’t see that. So… there we are, stuck in the middle again.

    As always, it’s also about perspective, as your Yes/No dichotomies show. Still, with this generation of kids being digital natives, my guess is that we need to model these new tools positively, as they are HERE and not going away. That’s clear to me, at least, even if I also don’t know what changes all this new tech will create.
    Greg Pincus recently posted…Lets Review Fibs! And commentsMy Profile

  7. Thanks all for adding food to the thoughts …

    Greg – I like your point about being in the middle. I had looked at this as snapshots in time, not a journey. Thanks for that.

    Susan – Until you separated fiction and nonfiction I hadn’t looked at the questions that way … but it does help explain Catherine’s approach. She knows she can find facts AND be entertained.

    Dawn – You hit my nail on the head – do we need to rush to introduce screens or are screens just “here.” I think I’m seeing a difference between living life and “using” the devices to be teachers/tools. Is there a difference between Catherine seeing me type on the computer and buying her programs to entertain/educate her?

    Zoe – I confess I do love the Nook. My husband and I share it. Originally it was for trips (he travels to the West Coast and was forever buying books he to “fill the void” @ Airport stores. Now we use it more frequently when Catherine is at swim practice or other long stretches. We still read books, magazines & newspapers but it is a nice alternative.

    Janelle – Thanks for your reassurance. I am so glad to know I’m not the only struggler! My daughter is just in 3rd grade and I see so many differences from Mrs. Hirsch’s class (my teacher). It is awe inspiring not just for the toys but also the content.

  8. What great questions. We do have a kindle and an iPad and I’m finding that my girls, while entertained by these devices, do not like them as much as books. For this I am grateful although I do feel like exposing children to different types literacy is now, more than ever, an important part of raising readers.
    Stacey recently posted…Cybils Finalists ContinuedMy Profile

  9. I don’t personally care what the future of reading technology is, whether it’s bound paper with offset ink type or e-Ink or something I can’t imagine. I just care that the future involves lots of reading! To my students I promote fiction or non, text or audio, plain or comic-style. Whatever works for them and gets them engaged in reading.

    1. Your kids are very lucky to have you! Speaking as Jane Parent, you’re ideas about opening their eyes to different genre and formats fills a void because I don’t have the experience or the time to read the studies!

  10. This is an ongoing debate and one that was definitely worthy of a blog post. An excellent blog post by the way! Not sure I have the answer to what the future holds, but I hope it holds a mix of eReading and more tactile reading – as in, real books. I stumbled across your blog from the Comment Challenge and I’m so glad I did!
    Lindsay recently posted…Where the Magic HappensMy Profile

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by, Lindsay! I am glad to have found Tiptoe Kisses, too! Like you, I hope that there are still plenty of opportunities for real books. I’m betting the paper industry will be fighting for that!

  11. I think that literacy will certainly change in the 21st century. We are not going to eliminate digital media, no matter how much we question it. It’s here and it’s here to stay. I don’t think that means the end of print media. I think our children will need to be “bi-literal” and by that I mean fluent reader of print and digital media. I think it will change the way we think and read, but not necessarily for the worst. I think we will have to pay close attention to the research and make our own observations to see just how it influences knowledge and thinking.
    Trina recently posted…2011 Reading Challenges for the New YearMy Profile

  12. I’ve been thinking about this so much. It’s an issue we’ll need to both know more about and address.

    I really wonder how it affects eye sight – is there any research on that?

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