“Educational television should be absolutely forbidden. It can only lead to unreasonable disappointment when your child discovers that the letters of the alphabet do not leap up and dance around with royal-blue chickens.”
— Fran Lebowitz, Metropolitan Life, 1978
I have a bone to pick with Tumblebooks.
They are spreading, slowly but surely. You can catch them in school and public libraries. They are creeping into our homes. They turn up on lists of the Best Apps for Readers. And they don’t seem to understand that they’re wrong.
Their Web site boasts: “TumbleBookLibrary is an online collection of TumbleBooks, animated, talking picture books which teach kids the joy of reading in a format they’ll love. TumbleBooks are created by taking existing picture books, adding animation, sound, music and narration to produce an electronic picture book which you can read or have read to you.”
There’s a word for that, and it’s not “book.”
Animation? Sound? Music? That is not teaching anyone the joy of reading. That is teaching the joy of screens.
And the joy of screens, like the joy of cocaine, is not a lesson that anyone needs to put effort into teaching. Screens appeal to the proverbial drug-addled rat jumping up and down inside our skulls squeaking, “More! Louder!” There’s constant feedback. And it’s addictive.
Our society, and those ubiquitous screens, has been transformed into one enormous feedback mechanism. That’s why the glowing image captivates us, as Dr. Christopher Lucas told the New York Times: “It’s not sustained attention in the absence of rewards. It’s sustained attention with frequent intermittent rewards.” You want sustained attention in the absence of rewards, date me!
But “sustained attention in the absence of rewards” sounds an awful lot like the elusive art of actual focus. Real books require that. Real life requires that.
Or does it these days? Everything’s so fragmented. We read thousands of words per day, and none of it penetrates.
The screens, the Science Times recently noted, are the only things that captivate us.
We’re ADD, ADHD, AD — look, a bird!, as the old joke runs.
But plant us in front of a screen and we’re hooked.
This resonated with me. I am gradually replacing all my friends with screens. They are generally easier to deal with, but sometimes you spill spaghetti sauce on them and it damages their inner workings. And they can’t really hold their liquor.
Who needs books? Books are all about sustained effort in the absence of reward. Get rid of them! Give us screens instead. Or, worse, try to combine the two, in the process destroying and degrading them both, like a human centipede.
Take Tumblebooks. Books with animation, sound, music and narration? It’s embarrassing enough what all we newspapers are doing nowadays.
(Look, here’s a quiz! How do you know if he’s The One? A) You don’t. B) Maybe you do!) C) Pippa Middleton Topless Photos, and the word “herpes,” to confuse the search engines.)
For me, this is fine. I have all the dignity of a cat stuck in a ceiling fan. But I don’t like it when books have to cram themselves into the metaphorical jeggings of all-singing, all-dancing, constantly overstimulating Life For Kids Nowadays.
Books aren’t supposed to overstimulate you. If you are being overstimulated by a book, you should contact the authorities, because the book is not supposed to be doing that. Books are boring. That is what makes them interesting. They require you to be actively imaginative. They give you black squiggles on a page and you are forced to transform them into dragons and monsters and heroes and villains in the theater of your mind. It takes effort and attention. Sustained attention. But the rewards are infinite.
Or you could just read a Tumblebook.