Mama, don’t let your baby read ebooks

A couple of weeks back I basically demanded we all abdicate paper-based books for plastic and bits. And I still stand by that, as long as you're over the age of 1.2 With kids, it's a different matter.

A couple of weeks back I basically demanded we all abdicate paper-based books for plastic and bits. And I still stand by that, as long as you’re over the age of 12.

With kids, it’s a different matter.

Keep them away from ebooks. Far, far away.

Ebooks are great for us seasoned readers. But they’re terrible for learning how to love reading.

Plus, reading an ebook means you’re playing a direct role in market research.

And do you really want your kids to be the equivalent of permanent test subjects in a consumer survey?

Companies that sell you ebooks are monitoring your every reading moment.

This can be seen clearly in the Kobo’s Reading Life app.

Reading Life is actually quite fun. It turns reading into a sort of game. You get awards for reading at different times of the day, or at different places, or for trying different kinds of books.

If nothing else, you get an interesting statistical view of your reading habits, which can be quite revealing.

But the most brazen example of an ereader’s ability to track every word you read can be seen in Reading Life’s new Pulse feature.

As you read, Pulse shows you how many other people are reading the same page as you, so you can engage instantly with them in discussions about the book.

This is equal parts cool and scary.

But it’s not just Kobo that tracks this data. Kobo just happens to be the only ebook seller sharing it with us.

And that not only enables ebook sellers to perfectly tailor their advertising pitches for our interests.

It gives them a whole new product – data about some of our deepest interests and most entrenched habits – that they can sell to a shadow market of advertising firms.

As adults, we can understand this. More to the point, we can legally and morally consent to it.

But kids? You may as well sell their soul as let them read ebooks.

The only ebooks I expose my son to are a couple of chapters of the Hardy Boys every night that we read together.

Everything else is paper.

Paper can’t be tracked. Paper is anonymous.

But, more to the point, paper is the way we first fall in love with books and then with reading as an act.

As adults, we don’t need paper anymore. We’re past that romantic, childish notion that paper actually contributes to our ability to consume the written word.

But kids need paper. They need the tactility. The smell of a book and its ink draws a child into the world of reading as much as the words.

In the same way that a kid needs to run and tumble and get dirty, a kid needs to grapple with a book and its contents as a physical object.

They need to be able to write their name inside the cover.

They want to scribble on their favourite pages, or cross out the scary parts.

When I was growing up I’d draw myself into a book’s pictures when I desperately wanted to be a part of the story.

Kids can rip their favourite pages out, cut out characters and glue them into their own pictures.

They can throw a book when it makes them mad.

They can cuddle books they love (I did).

They can drop books.

They can press leaves, bugs, or unwanted food items between the pages of a book.

They can, and do, read multiple books simultaneously.

None of this happens with ebook readers.

Most importantly, though, is the act of reading by accident.

Maybe a book is just laying around, on the floor or on a table.

Maybe it’s on a shelf, or has been re-discovered among the dust bunnies under a bed.

Kids will pick up a book because it’s just there and they’re bored.

It’s why I still subscribe to paper magazines. I can’t count the times I’ve caught my son browsing through a New Yorker just because I left it sitting on the coffee table.

He would never have even glanced at the electronic version I also have on my iPad.

With a device, there’s no room for serendipity in reading, you read with intent.

And intent typically isn’t a strong quality in kids.

Distractibility is, though.

So just imagine you’re seven years old and own an ereader that has Angry Birds on it.

Are you really going to do a lot of reading?

Paper, ink, and the overall physicality of the book lead kids to love reading.

It’s a transcendent experience, and an essential part of growing up, when you mature from book lover to reader.

But the experience of the paper book is definitely an essential part of a kid’s apprenticeship in that process.

So if you were thinking of buying an ereader for your child for Christmas, don’t.

Instead, spend a few hundred bucks on paper books.

At worst, it just buys your kid another year of a private existence unbeknownst to marketing firms.

But I’ll bet those books will become beloved objects that strengthen your child’s grasp of the power and grace of the written word.

Andrew Robulack is a writer and consultant specializing in technology and the internet.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A Copper Ridge resident clears their driveway after a massive over night snowfall in Whitehorse on Nov. 2, 2020. Environment Canada has issued a winter storm warning for the Whitehorse and Haines Junction areas for Jan. 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Winter storm warning for Haines Junction and Whitehorse

Environment Canada says the storm will develop Monday and last until Tuesday

Maria Metzen off the start line of the Yukon Dog Mushers Association’s sled dog race on Jan. 9. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Mushers race in preparation for FirstMate Babe Southwick

The annual race is set for Feb. 12 and 13.

The Yukon government is making changes to the medical travel system, including doubling the per diem and making destinations for medical services more flexible. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Subsidy for medical travel doubled with more supports coming

The change was recommended in the Putting People First report endorsed by the government

Chloe Sergerie, who was fined $500 under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> on Jan. 12, says she made the safest choice available to her when she entered the territory. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Woman fined $500 under CEMA says she made ‘safest decision’ available

Filling out a declaration at the airport was contrary to self-isolation, says accused

Yukon University has added seven members to its board of governors in recent months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New members named to Yukon U’s board of governors

Required number of board members now up to 17

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

The Fish Lake area viewed from the top of Haeckel Hill on Sept. 11, 2018. The Yukon government and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced they are in the beginning stages of a local area planning process for the area. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local area planning for Fish Lake announced

The Government of Yukon and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced in… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Fire damage, photographed on Jan. 11, to a downtown apartment building which occurred late in the evening on Jan. 8. Zander Firth, 20, from Inuvik, was charged with the arson and is facing several other charges following his Jan. 12 court appearance. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
More charges for arson suspect

The Inuvik man charged in relation to the fire at Ryder Apartments… Continue reading

The grace period for the new Yukon lobbyist registry has come to an end and those who seek to influence politicians will now need to report their efforts to a public database. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Grace period for new lobbyist registry ends

So far nine lobbyists have registered their activities with politicians in the territory

Most Read