By Ferris Jabr
In a viral YouTube video from October 2011 a 1-year-old girl sweeps her fingers across an iPad’s touchscreen, shuffling groups of icons. In the following scenes she appears to pinch, swipe and prod the pages of paper magazines as though they too were screens. When nothing happens, she pushes against her leg, confirming that her finger works just fine — or so a title card would have us believe.
The girl’s father, Jean-Louis Constanza, presents “A Magazine Is an iPad That Does Not Work” as naturalistic observation — a Jane Goodall among the chimps moment — that reveals a generational transition. “Technology codes our minds,” he writes in the video’s description. “Magazines are now useless and impossible to understand, for digital natives” — that is, for people who have been interacting with digital technologies from a very early age.
Perhaps his daughter really did expect the paper magazines to respond the same way an iPad would. Or maybe she had no expectations at all — maybe she just wanted to touch the magazines. Babies touch everything. Young children who have never seen a tablet like the iPad or an e-reader like the Kindle will still reach out and run their fingers across the pages of a paper book; they will jab at an illustration they like; heck, they will even taste the corner of a book. Today’s so-called digital natives still interact with a mix of paper magazines and books, as well as tablets, smartphones and e-readers; using one kind of technology does not preclude them from understanding another.
Nevertheless, the video brings into focus an important question: How exactly does the technology we use to read change the way we read?
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