Should Children Read From Digital Paper?

Guest Contributor: Nicholas Lester Bell from End of Line

Published on February 11, 2011

<><><>

A family friend wrote this on her tumblr page:

i am torn, because i want grace to read and i feel like she would be more inclined to read on an e-reader with a touch screen rather than on the pages of an actual book. i myself would prefer the paper book, and am a bit anti-e-reader, but in a recent debate over whether or not to let her play a video game (instead of watch tv), i think an e-reader would be my top choice over anything else. thoughts?

I wrote her a long explanation about e-reader pros and cons, various options and opportunities there are. A great deal of words were spent on this without addressing the actual direct question. This is going to be a better exploration of that issue and the greater question of ebooks. The technical information will follow in a later post.

To answer the question “should children read from e-readers?” you need to ask another question: “will an e-reader help your child read more?” Yes? Then they definitely should use it. The more a child reads, the better off they will be in all parts of life. Reading helps develop and expand the mind in a way almost nothing else will. Even the subject matter isn’t overly critical. It is better to read garbage like Twilight than nothing at all. Everyone has to start somewhere. There is always more time to graduate to better literature.

The presentation of a digital book does not really matter. Just like the paper of a physical book does not matter. With few exceptions, the physical presentation of a book is not critical to the experience. It is the medium on which content is delivered. The best analogy is music – for most of it, it does not matter if you listen on vinyl, mp3 or cd. It is all the same notes, the same words.

A story is not the pages it is written on. In fact, it is not even the words it is written with. A story is the experience of reading. A band without an audience may be making noise, but are they making music? Without the reader, the story is merely words on a page, digital or otherwise. It is the reading that gives it a life, a presence all its own.

So let your child read an ebook. Let them read a comic book. Let them read the newspaper, the encyclopedia, the back of the cereal box. Reading gives a child wings to explore not only their own world, but infinite worlds behind this one. Whatever avenue helps them best do it, let them read. The universe awaits their exploration.

[Chris: The comments in this original post are worth reading as well]

On Being a Skeptic

Guest Contributor: Nicholas Lester Bell from End of Line

Published on May 7, 2010

<><><>

At a recent family gathering, I was talking about participating in “Skeptics in the Pub,” a secular community building activity sponsored by the Center for Inquiry.  I explained that it was a about getting like minded individuals together to socialize, network, debate, etc. The goal was to give something similar to the communities that many give up when they embrace a secular lifestyle.

My mother responded with the question “Isn’t skeptic a negative term?”  As someone who is knee deep in the skepticism movement, I do not carry any of that connotation with the term.  Thinking a bit more broadly though, and it is very easy to see how that term can seem like an insult.

One of the key reasons for this is that we live in a very faith-based society.  The vast majority of people in the world hold beliefs for which there are no evidence.  In fact, most religious advocate abandoning questioning for blind acceptance.  In the Gospel According John, Jesus himself says “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

This willingness to believe without evidence extends far beyond the religious in culture. Belief in ghosts, psychic powers, Big Foot, aliens, etc is common with people of all levels of background and status.  Most people assume things they hear are correct and will only give them up with irrefutable evidence (and some simply refute everything).

Skeptics represent the opposite position, and thus are often cast in a negative light by those are faith-based.  But what exactly does it mean to be a skeptic?  A skeptical worldview is an evidence-based one.  It is an approach to accepting, rejecting, or suspending judgment on new information.  Skepticism requires the new information to be well supported by evidence.

I do not believe this is negative position to take.  In fact, any one utilizing the scientific method are embracing the idea of skepticism. Science attempts to evaluate claims based on verifiability and falsifiability and discourages accepting claims on faith or anecdotal evidence.  This is the core of skepticism.

I am not alone in my position..  Examples of skeptics are easy to come by, from the historical (Galileo and Charles Darwin) to the contemporary (Adam Savage and Penn Jillette).  And today, with the digital reproduction and distribution of knowledge, we have access to unprecedented levels of information.  Thus it is easier to be a skeptic now than anytime before.

I am a lover of knowledge.  I am a questioner.  I am a skeptic.

Deceptive Numbers: Sprinklers vs. Smoke Alarm Systems

Guest Contributor: Nicholas Lester Bell from End of Line

Published on May 2, 2011

<><><>

Statistics can be very powerful pieces of information. It is a great way to take large areas of information and distill it into easily digestible pieces. But without a good understanding of math, it is easy to be deceived.

I saw an example of this in a recent issue of Building Products:

A March 2010 report from the National Fire Association found that over five years, the death rate per 1,000 reported home fires was 83% lower when sprinkler systems were present than when they weren’t.

Eighty-three percent seems like a huge number, right? Think of all the lives that sprinklers must save. We MUST put them into every single house in America. Think of the children!

Continue reading