Reading revolution a welcome chapter
Americans have for two years been able to download and read books at any time and place using wireless electronic readers. That amenity will come to Hong Kong after October 19 when the online retailer Amazon.com starts shipping the international version of its Kindle e-reader. The event is as important for our community as it is for the firm's business expansion plans. Any new means of facilitating reading and learning is good.
Amazon.com says that books can be downloaded in about a minute from an ever-expanding catalogue of hundreds of thousands. A voice feature will give the visually impaired access to titles of some publishers. The price for each will be US$9.99 and there will be no downloading charge. Obtaining the printed word has never been less expensive or easier; it will presumably become increasingly so as competitors like Sony and Apple launch rivals.
There are those among us who would never think of trading the feel and smell of hard-copy books, magazines and newspapers for ones that can only be read on a hand-held screen. The march of technology, environmental concerns and convenience dictate that ways have to change. But wireless e-readers open vistas for younger generations, who overwhelmingly prefer comics, computer games, tinkering with mobile phones and watching television to curling up with a book. Making the printed word more accessible to our children in a means they are comfortable with will help society.
Reading has a host of benefits that comics, games and television can only partially provide. Through books, readers develop creativity and an ability to comprehend concepts and ideas, increase vocabulary and language fluency, and broaden interests. Spelling and writing standards improve.
The Kindle's availability will provide fresh competition for booksellers, who will need to adapt. It may even lead to lower book prices. Schools may consider electronic textbooks, as is happening in the US. The changes are worrying for Luddites, but for the sake of our city's learning and education they are more than welcome.