- James Tracy, headmaster, Cushing Academy
- Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, English professor, University of Maryland
- Liz Gray, library director, Dana Hall School
- Nicholas Carr, author, “The Big Switch”
- William Powers, author, “Hamlet’s BlackBerry”
We, therefore, invited the chairmen of our academic departments to comb the stacks; books deemed worthy of retention were distributed to respective departments, while those not selected were donated to local nonprofits and public schools.
The digital natives in our schools need to have the experience of getting lost in a physical book, not only for the pure pleasure but also as a way to develop their attention spans, ability to concentrate, and the skill of engaging with a complex issue or idea for an uninterrupted period of time.
When we read from the screen of a multifunctional computing device, whether it’s a PC, a Smartphone, a Kindle, or an iPad, we sacrifice that singlemindedness. Our attention is scattered by all the distractions and interruptions that pour through our computers and digital networks. The result, a raft of psychological and neurological studies show, is cursory reading, weak comprehension and shallow learning.
What are often considered the weaknesses of the old-fashioned book are in some ways its strengths. For instance, a physical book works with the body and mind in ways that more readily produce the deep-dive experience that is reading at its best. When you read on a two-dimensional screen, your mind spends a lot of energy just navigating, keeping track of where you are on the page and in the text. The tangibility of a traditional book allows the hands and fingers to take over much of the navigational burden: you feel where you are, and this frees up the mind to think.
Moreover, I believe that in a hyper-connected age, the fact that books are not connected to the electronic grid is becoming their greatest asset. They’re a space apart, a private place away from the inbox where we can go to quiet our minds and reflect. Isn’t that the state in which the best kind of learning occurs?
I begin the day and I end the day with an hour that is completely free of anything that is professionally demanding - using e-mail or Internet or anything. I end with literature, books that console and uplift, but require me to slow down. I want to begin my day and end it with a pause button of my own choice.