Friday, July 2, 2010

iPads and Literature's Digital Graveyard

My girls read Alice in Wonderland before going to bed last night. They were captivated. However, it was not the alternate reality that Lewis Carroll painted with psychadelic brushstrokes. Nor was it the amiable Alice, the heroine whose curiosity models the pre-school psyche.

No: they were mesmerized by the screen. It glowed and folded. Shifted and steamed. It interacted and entertained. This is reading in the digital age. Correction: This is reading on an iPad--large screen, full color, sensitive to the touch.

I hate the iPad. I am one-third anti-trend, two-thirds envious. But as I watched my girls and their cousins (it is their father's iPad) fight over whose turn it was to smudge the screen, I considered the ramifications of virtual reading.

To some degree, producers of this eDition of Alice in WonderPad, were simply upgrading previous versions. Books used to come on parchment scrolls. You didn't turn pages, you scrolled down. Pages came later and helped in marking location. Illustrations did not always accompany a first edition. Often these stemmed from the suggestion of publishers or enthusiasts. The import of pictures increased the dimensionality of a book. Unfortunately, the precise visual element illustrations aim to bring to a work often reduces it. (Movie reproductions are just as guilty; I cannot read the name Frodo without envisioning Elijah Wood's steely blue eyes.)

The fairest comparison to WonderPad is the Lift-the-Flap book. Historically, kids are more eager to displace trees to find monkeys hiding behind them than they are to follow a narrative. But my example underscores the key difference: Lift-the-Flap books typically forfeit story for surprise. The content is irrelevant in said genre; the book exists purely for the flipping of flaps.

Alice in Wonderland was not written to manipulate cupcakes or watch bottles descend from the ceiling or control the view from a window (each features of the WonderPad version). Carroll created a surreal, if not haunting, escape from our world, which is the goal of fantasy --suspending reality and stretching the mind. The genre is damned when its reduced to screen magic.

Never before has bedtime reading so deeply grieved me. Last night I nearly cried. I saw the future of books in a digital graveyard. I watched my daughters trade their pure love of reading for virtual reality. And I know they loved it; I could see the glow on their faces.


willtolive said...

I saw two kids throwing an IPAD back and forth and I thought, "Baseball is going to die." :(

Nick Deck said...

it makes me sad to know that we are so quick to make "something" as a culture just because we can, with out ever thinking about if we should.

Sprained Ankle said...

I thought baseball died a long time ago. Now NBA has, in my book... not a digital book either. And yes, everything created, from blog posts to toothpicks, has unintended consequences. It shouldn't stop production, but perhaps slow things.