by Melodie Davis
for release October 20, 2000
Library Cards: Expired but Not Extinct
Our region just got a new library. But I was embarrassed, when my daughters and I went to check it out, to discover that my library card had expired over a year and a half ago. The librarian recognized me and knew I was a writer. What did she think of my long-expired card? That I wasn't using the library any more? Didn't I read?
Well I must confess: the Internet has changed a lot in this world, and it has indeed changed the way I use the library. I had been struck by that earlier, when I realized that I was now using the search capabilities of the Internet, when I used to run to the library to check this fact or find that magazine article. In my defense, I had read books in the last year and a half-but had used the library cards of my children, or borrowed books from friends.
My daughters' memories of the old library are tenderly intertwined with their own growing up days of leisurely visits to the library to spend hours browsing, listening to stories and even watching the old film strip and cassette "books." So even though the new library has many nice features, it doesn't quite feel like home yet.
Even though our habits may have changed, I don't think that libraries are going to be archaic anytime soon. Most of us still prefer to read longer works like novels, longer articles and nonfiction in paper form. Many people relax or unwind by reading a book. Witness the popularity -- and the surprise from everyone -- of the Harry Potter books.
Early enthusiasts of computers prophesied that computers would sharpen children's minds and accelerate their intellectual development. Well, guess what, no surprise, now experts are cautioning about those early rosy predictions. The Alliance for Childhood (AFC, www.allianceforchildhood.net) is a partnership of individuals and organizations who feel that while computers and the Internet offer many wonderful tools, parents, teachers and consumers are wise to not rush blindly into thinking that computers solve all the issues in education.
The temptation with a new gimmick is always, "Wow-whiz! Computers and the Internet are just amazing. Let's wire all our classrooms. If your child isn't using a computer by the time she's five she is doomed to failure in life." The AFC points out that computers can give children repetitive stress injuries (overusing the wrists on computer keyboards-a special risk for children who are still growing), eyestrain, lead to obesity, and create social isolation.
The even stronger argument, I think, is that children need bonds with persons, especially with parents, not with a computer. Children need time for active, physical play. Schools have cut back on recess even while rushing to embrace technology. Computers are captivating baby-sitters-but many times the software and Internet sites are merely fancy games, offering inappropriate grown up material, or advertising. "A heavy diet of ready-made computer images and programmed toys appears to stunt imaginative thinking," says a report titled "Fool's Gold: A Critical Look at Computers and Childhood," from the AFC.
A separate study, "Learning in the Real World," (www.realworld.org) which examines the costs and benefits of education technology, says "What is a better learning environment: reality or virtual reality? In the three-dimensional real world, kids encounter the unexpected. On the two-dimensional screen children see only the choices a programmer has developed for them." On the other hand, the study noted that for children with certain kinds of disabilities, computers can be therapeutic or help teach manual and thinking skills.
A new book, The Child and the Machine: How Computers Put Our Children's Education at Risk, by Alison Armstrong and Charles Casement (Robins Lane Press) asks parents and educators to avoid an uncritical rush to embrace computers. The authors point out that the constant need to maintain and upgrade computer hardware and the latest software is having an enormous impact on school technology expenditures. They point out that the first and most critical relationship in a school is the child's relationship with his or her teacher.
Now, we cannot escape computers nor would I want to be without all they offer. Just renew my library card please and remember: children need all the things they've ever needed: play, work, sunshine, rain, books, toys, and ... sure, let him or her on the computer if available. You can make up for lack of a computer with other stimulation, but its harder to make up for lack of parental or teacher involvement with children.
Do you have a comment or story regarding children and technology? Send to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
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