Smartphones, eBooks, Africa & Literacy

My friend Peter sent me a link to a BBC News piece that had a wonderful opening:

Publishers have long bemoaned Africa’s lack of a ‘book culture’ but some hope that the advent of smartphones and the internet could help change this.”

The lure of electronics to children is well known and I for one was disappointed when the promise of the 1990’s, that the use of computers would spread literacy unilaterally across America, never really materialized. (And unless we include cyber pornography, of course, the demographics of whose “readers” hasn’t changed much, I don’t think.)

A smartphone is a computer, however, and texting and social media apps in particular do seem to be forcing literacy upon young people at a phenomenal rate. And while smartphones and data plans are at first blush expensive, when you realize they are delivering the world to everyone around the world without the bigger expense of PCs, Macs, tablets, land lines, et al, they offer tremendous bang for the buck,

I have a smartphone that people laugh at because it is so big (2 1/2 inches by 5) but I use it because I read eMail and eBooks on it when I’m walking around.

I am looking at this computer-smartphone right now and I think of young people in regions where literacy is not flourishing.  Here in my hand is a machine that would be irresistible to them, here in my hand is a reading machine.