Published on: October 18, 2012
This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.
Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.
There was an op-ed piece in the New York Times the other day that I think represented a fundamental misunderstanding of the digital revolution, and while it was not about retailing or marketing, I think it is worth addressing since some of its misconceptions could be shared by other disciplines.
The piece was by Justin Hollander,identified as assistant professor of urban and environmental policy and planning at Tufts University and the author of “Sunburnt Cities: The Great Recession, Depopulation and Urban Planning in the American Sunbelt.”
Hollander's column objects to a stated objective by the Department of Education to, over the long haul, ged rid of paper textbooks. The argument seems to be that kids will be more open to learning from e-books, which can bring a more diversified experience than just words on paper; it also is argued that e-books will be easier on kids' backs.
Hollander writes: "While e-readers and multimedia may seem appealing, the idea of replacing an effective learning platform with a widely hyped but still unproven one is extremely dangerous."
And then Hollander draws some comparisons, suggesting that cars are a metaphor for e-readers, while the streetcars and mass transit systems them often replaces are a metaphor for physical textbooks; these days, he notes,many cities are bringing back those mass transit options because the wisdom of their original existence has been demonstrated all over again.
And then he makes another comparison that I find to be extraordinary: "The Polaroid is a wonderful device for what it is, but it will and should remain a technological novelty. On the other hand, few higher-tech formats deliver the lush sound quality of the vinyl record, and younger generations have recently returned to the format.
"In other words, we shouldn’t jump at a new technology simply because it has advantages; only time and study will reveal its disadvantages and show the value of what we’ve left behind."
Now, I understand that as a teacher and a writer, Hollander has a desire not to walk away from formats and low-tech options that have served him - and many millions of people - so well. And I'm just the co-writer of a book about the movies and a summer team-teacher at Portland State University, so I won't pretend to match my credentials up against his.
But give me a break.
I'm pretty sure that in education, accessibility is what we're seeking.
And yes, sure, some cities are bringing back mass transit systems. But I think your metaphor breaks down here, because as much as I love cities with great subway and streetcar systems, those lines will only take you where they can go. If you want to go where you want to go, you need to use some other form of transportation. And the whole point of the way that modern education uses technology is that it allows students to think outside traditional lines, to escape from the boundaries that were drawn for us back in the days when these technologies did not exist.
And here's something that Hollander doesn't even address in his Times piece - the fact that digital textbooks can be updated and corrected easily and constantly. Unlike print textbooks which need new editions, which cost money and take time to print and distribute. I'm not surprised he doesn't talk about this e-advantage, because it undermines his whole case.
I get it. Some people - and some industries - are afraid of technology. They yearn for the good old days. They acknowledge that they need to change, but in their hearts they think that they're only going to go down that road kicking and screaming.
I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to turn in my iPad and only read print books. There is a place for both, and each one has its advantages. But I want an education system - and the world wants retailers and marketers - that are adapting to a digital world, and that are able to access products and information without concerns about old world boundaries.
The efficacy of e-books hasn't been proven? Really? On what planet?
That's what is on my mind this morning, and as always I want to know what is on your mind.
Postscript: Coincidentally, after this video commentary was recorded, Amazon announced that it is launching a service that it says will help schools and workplaces centrally manage Kindles used by students and employees — sending out e-books, distribute updated content, or blocking certain types of activities. The service, called Whispercast, is clearly designed to help Amazon expand its footprint in the educational establishment.
- KC's View: