My six-year-old son loves my iPad, although mostly he loves it for Angry Birds and a retro download of Sonic the Hedgehog. He is aware of the iPad’s potential as a platform for reading, a skill he is acquiring at frightening speed, but he hasn’t yet sought out his own texts for screen. I’ve had a Kindle for some time with the thought to review it, either for the blog or for WQ, but reviews from people like me are so boring: ‘eink this and resolution that’. So I handed the device, preloaded with story, to my son so that he could review on my behalf. Almost all his reading happens on paper at the moment as he moves from picture books to short, large-text chapter books. His favourite is H.I. Larry’s Zac Power series, so I chose one of those titles as the review text.
He picked up the Kindle and – after a moment establishing that, no, it didn’t have a touchscreen – he dived into the book, reading aloud in a hilarious monotone as is his habit. When Zac had again foiled the bad guys and order restored to the universe, I asked my son what he thought of the experience.
‘It was good,’ he said.
When nothing further emerged, I pressed him for more. Was it different to reading in a book?
‘A bit,’ he replied. ‘You have to push buttons to turn the page.’
At this point, I reconsidered the wisdom of getting a six-year-old to do my review for me. What did he like better: reading on a Kindle or reading a book?
‘I don’t know. They’re about the same.’
Then again, we might be getting somewhere with this after all. If he had to choose between Kindle or paper, which would he choose? He thought about this a long time, evidently for the first time weighing the various pros and cons that are so familiar to those of us involved in this discussion professionally.
‘The book,’ he said eventually, though with authority.
‘I like the cover. It’s in colour and 3D. You have to wear glasses to see the 3D.’
So there it is. Pressed to find a distinction between reading devices, he plumbed for something relatively superficial. He honestly failed to see what the big deal was. I’m fascinated to see how his generation – kids learning to read right now – perceive texts, storytelling, screens and books. For my son, words are words, reading is reading, and containers are irrelevant.
I returned to work the following day to a flurry of rumours that Amazon was considering producing a colour version of the Kindle. No one mentioned 3D glasses, but I suppose that announcement can’t be too far away.