The Day the World Changed

October 28, 2008 · Posted in culture, iPhone · 5 Comments 

I did something the other day that I have never done before in my life.

I put my cell phone in my pocket.

A little background information is in order here. I’m not a phone person. I prefer to communicate by e-mail or messaging. I don’t feel a need to always be in contact. In fact, I like having times during my day when no one can find me. I tried Twitter for a few months and came away thinking “so what?” I have a Facebook page, but I mainly use it to do something called “poking” which I really don’t fully understand. I got my first cell phone when my oldest son started driving. I only turned it on when he was away from the house. Other times it was turned off and either buried in my pack or sitting at home on the kitchen table. Once or twice I ordered pizza with it.

Oh–and one more piece of important information. The cell phone I put in my pocket the other day was an iPhone 3G.

The world changed for me when I was sitting alone at a neighborhood Subway eating a tuna sub and reading the New York Times on my iPhone. I ran across an interesting article on behavioral economics–an interest of my other son’s–and I sent the article to him using my iPhone. It was later that I fully realized what I had done. I was reading the current issue of the Times in a little shop in Fairbanks, Alaska. I sent an e-mail to a student in Wyoming. I didn’t need to look for a network. I didn’t need to fuss with multiple applications on my phone. The icons and text were big enough for me to read and the buttons were big enough for me to touch. It just worked.

Since then I haven’t been able to allow my iPhone to get very far away from me. It has very little to do with the fact that it’s a phone. It has more to do with the fact that I can locate my position using GPS, fly around the world with Google Earth, look up a word that I should really know (the last one was solipsism), check the political polls, read a bit of news, check and send e-mail, look at some photos, play a movie, find out what song is playing on the radio (Shazam!), play a game or two, and even phone my family. And I can do it easily.

The implications for education are enormous. Field trips take on a whole new meaning. Emergency contacts are a tap away. Content residing on my phone can be played on a TV. I think this is the device I have always been waiting for. It didn’t take long for it to change my world.

My iPhone now resides in my pocket, always turned on. Someone might call me…

Why Do American Kids Hate Books?

February 12, 2008 · Posted in Teaching 2.0 · Comment 

A recent ComputerWorld article by Mike Elgan–Will Cell Phones Save Books?–provides some thought-provoking ideas about the general decline of reading in the United States. Elgan quotes a recent article from the New Yorker magazine:

Americans are losing not just the will to read but even the ability. According to the Department of Education, between 1992 and 2003 the average adult’s skill in reading prose slipped one point on a 500-point scale, and the proportion who were proficient — capable of such tasks as “comparing viewpoints in two editorials” — declined from 15% to 13.

Why is this? An article referenced by Elgan–Is A New Dark Age At Hand?–suggests that the process began long before the Internet and the World Wide Web conditioned us to brief explanations, sound bites and video clips. Radio and television began the process; politicians and marketeers exacerbated it, and the Web has made it even easier to avoid the need to read to get information.

So, is the lack of interest in reading a result of technology? If that were the case, you’d expect that the more technology a society has available to it, the less interest there would be in reading. Most countries are experiencing the same decline in reading as the United States, except for one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world–Japan. But why?

It turns out that cell phone novels are very popular in Japan. Cell phone novels are composed on cell phones, downloaded to other cell phones, and read on cell phones. Everyone in Japan has a cell phone, so a potential good read is always with you. Who writes them? Everyone, apparently. The No. 5 best-selling print book in Japan last year, according to the Times, was written first on a cell phone by a girl during her senior year in high school. Mainstream publishers are courting cell phone authors due to the immense popularity of their works.

Elgan believes this is why reading remains a popular activity in Japan. It’s interactive. You’re not simply a consumer of mass media controlled by a few publishing houses trying to make as much money as they can. You can easily choose what you want to read and, more importantly, you can contribute your own work to the system. If you’re a good writer, you’ll probably find an audience. Additionally, you will understand the process of creating literature and what makes good and bad literature.

Switch back to the US for a minute. How do we teach children to love reading? Assign them all the same novel? Make them write a book report? Take a test on the contents?

Could we do it any worse?