I'm a great believer in "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." The book, to my mind, isn't broken – it's a very efficient way of delivering written content in a compact, often beautiful form. Humans can interact with and manipulate it very easily – it's simple to find your place (almost anything flat can be a bookmark), you can see how far you are through a book with a single glance and it needs no batteries or power source. True, if you have a lot of books they take up space in your house and some books can be heavy if you want to commute with them (blame Stieg Larsson and Stephen King here!) Yet, for a linear reading experience, I don't think anything beats it.
For all this, it seems like the book is in crisis. 1 in 3 children in the UK do not own a book of their own - in fact they are more likely to own a mobile phone. Left, right and centre, people are trying to reinvent the book for a generation who apparently value technology far higher than words. The Society of Authors is lobbying government to safeguard school library provision, which is a worthy goal. But I'm going to come right out and point my finger at parents.
I guess, to a certain extent, this line of argument requires me to stand on the moral high ground – which isn't a position I'm all that comfortable with. But, here goes and you'll have to stop me if I get too Daily Mail. I think many parents are fundamentally failing their kids by giving them too much of what they want. Games consoles, smartphones, TVs in their rooms – kids are fed a diet of entertainment with little or no oversight. We have become a culture of taking the easiest path through everything, and in parenting terms that seems to mean indulging your kids so they'll like you more. The need for approval is a very human weakness, and we live in a consumer society that operates by making us all feel constantly insecure and then offering us a product to make it better. Sometimes, the things we are made to feel insecure about weren't even a problem in the first place! The term "dead tree books" is a classic example. So what if they're made from dead trees – we can grow some more, and at far less impact to the environment than manufacturing an e-reader. Why not dead cow burgers or slaughtered pig sausages? Can't see those catching on any time soon.
My daughter was whinging last week about the fact that her friends all have a Nintendo 3DS and she doesn't. Sorry, but it's just not going to happen. I know that as soon as she has a games console that she can take and play anywhere, the book is going to lose out. I'm not against video games by any means, but I prefer a system where all gaming is done in plain sight and to agreed time limits. That might sound draconian, but how are kids going to learn willpower if we don't teach it to them? Heaven knows we have little enough of our own.
Am I being too regressive, clinging to the book while all around me people are abandoning them for a bright new digital future? I don't even have Sky TV for heaven's sake! But I think it's easy for kids to learn technology skills and hard for them to manage far more basic stuff like reading, writing and thinking independently. I believe children really respond to the time that adults take to personally help them, and see right through our guilty attempts to win their favour through gifts and bribery. Yes, we all have bad days and yes, technology is an excellent babysitter. But if it becomes the norm then we fail the very people we're supposed to be helping.