The May issue of First Things contains some excellent opinion pieces. My favorite is the one written by Marc Barnes, titled “The Screen and the Book.” Here is a key bit of Barnes’ argument:

The screen is the ultimate multipurpose tool. It may be used for reading an essay–but it need not be. I may equally watch some show on Netflix, play a flash game, check my bank account, or perform math equations. Anything I am reading could, in the same mode, and on the same screen, become something else. This is the phenomenology of the screen: It could be otherwise.

Every student understands this, and rather painfully so. This or that essay made manifest on a screen could equally become Facebook, or cat videos. It is a common critique of computers that they distract us from our work. True, but the problem is not limited to the moments in which they distract us. The experience of reading a text that could be otherwise is fundamentally different from reading a text that couldn’t. We may be distracted away from a book, but we are never distracted from the book by the book.

More and more schools are bringing ipads into the classroom. To this type of innovation, Barnes remarks:

If you want to destroy a child’s love for learning, get rid of books. Serve him Plato from a PDF and E.B. White from an e-reader … Remove the impractical, antiquated book in all its stubborn solidity, and encourage the child to dive into the flux wherein everything could be otherwise. If we do this absolutely, if we ensure that not even the rumor of books reaches our rising generation, we will create a new man for the digital age: a puddle of disconnected thoughts pretending to have a head.

Well said! Again, the entire piece, “The Screen and the Book,” can be found in the latest issue of First Things. Take the time to read it. In the print version of the journal!

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