This yearning for the new is very apparent in my students. I teach middle school. Very few of my students have no cell phone. Most not only have a cell phone, but they have a state-of-the-art model. They are proud to show you that theirs is the latest and the greatest. It has all the bells and whistles.
This isn't always to their advantage. For many, their phones are more of a distraction than an aide to their education. I've often been asked if they could use an ap to look up word definitions or spellings, only to find my students distracted by games or texts from their friends.
Last week in my advisory class we talked about good academic habits. Among those habits was treating one's body well: eating good food, getting enough exercise, and getting enough sleep. When I mentioned that one way to ensure a good night's sleep is to turn off one's cell phones, a number of my students errupted into protests. How could they be expected to turn their phones off? Their phones were their alarm clocks! I suggested they might turn them to 'alarm only.'
"I can't do that," one girl said, despair dripping from her voice. "I might miss something."
And so I've come to realize that many of my students are not getting enough sleep at night because they are afraid of missing something, afraid of missing the next big thing. They have becomes slaves to their bells and whistles.
When I published my first novel, I published it as an ebook. Even though I'd never read an ebook and didn't own a kindle or a nook, I'd read plenty of experts who said that ebooks were the next big thing, the state-of-the-art, bell and whistle way to read. Ebooks were going to revolutionize the way books were marketed and the way books were read. If this was the wave of the future, I wanted to catch it.
One of the big arguments for technology was that it would make information more accessible for more people. E-readers would make even remote villages in third world countries would have access to huge stores of information. Specialized software was going to make the written word accessible to people with handicaps that made reading impossible. The promises were exciting indeed.
But the wave of the future hasn't been the Banzai pipeline to fame and fortune that I was given to believe. While I've had some success with ebooks, I've had much more luck with my paperback editions. Many of my readers tell me they like the feel of real paper in their hands. They like the smell of it. The heft of it. They like turning the page. Somehow, in spite all the expert opinions, the tried and true has won out over the state-of-the-art.
So maybe the latest and the greatest has some value. Perhaps from those bells and whistles we will develop new ways of reading that will help those who cannot read right now. We will develop audio books and books that scan and scale to help those with disabilities. We will be able to distribute more books to people who live hundreds of miles from libraries, and put whole libraries into the hands of those who've never owned even one book.
Let us make sure that we control those bells and whistles instead of letting them control us.