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May 2019
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2011- 10 Tablets - Clay to Computer

a column written by James for the Sligo Weekender

In September of this year St. Kevins School in Crumlin swapped notepads for IPads. St. Colemans College in Claremorris became one of the first to replace text books with e-books. Now first year students in at least seven Irish schools no longer lug about heavy school-bags, but rather stow their entire knowledge base in one slim-line computer tablet. Blackboards are being traded in for interactive White-boards. Boasting a speedy processor, quality internet connectivity, and unlimited apps, the interactive aspect of every student having an IPad offers imponderable new options. Picture a Geography teacher explaining Plate Tectonics and tapping into real footage of volcanoes, tsunamis and earthquakes in order to elucidate. But will students now no longer be chastised for gazing out the window, but rather for frittering away time on Facebook and Bebo? Will they be scolded for tweeting rather than cheating in class?

Those of us born perhaps more than a few decades ago have roots in a background where our world was one of paper. My musical arrangements are still conceived with manuscript paper and an HB pencil, as Sibelius continues to unnerve me. Beautifully crafted hand-writing, grammar, parsing and punctuation are being relegated to educational history. With the popularity of Kindles and IBooks, and the closure of many bookstore giants, are we bidding bye-bye to books? Are books about to become part of a colossal library archive? E-readers are undeniably kinder to the environment, infinitely more portable, and updateable.

But I, for one, still buy books. I love the whole sensory experience of reading a real book. Books are beautiful tactile objects. I love the smell of old books, whether it be one of my late Mums well-thumbed poetry anthologies from her Queens University days, or my late grandfathers first edition copy of Kilgallons History of Sligo. I enjoy the physicality of turning pages, highlighting a text book, dog-earing a page, or slipping in a bookmark before I nod off for the night. When I fall asleep in front of a warm open fire, or prostrate on a golden Greek beach, or at home snuggled under my King-size duvet, I dont relish the added responsibility of rolling over and cracking my Kindle, or having it and its vast memory store pilfered. Are poetry books, recipe books, hymn books, Bibles, newspapers, magazines, dictionaries, thesauruses, atlases, libraries, bookcases, bookshops, and my prized collectable bookends soon to become things we simply once knew? Will the art of doodling die also?

In our never-ending quest for universal access to all knowledge, perhaps it really is just the words that matter, and not the material on which they are written.
Five thousand years ago in Egypts Library of Alexandria, it was deemed an enormous advance when knowledge was transferred to state-of-the-art scrolls from clay tablets. Now computer tablets have a virtually bottomless memory capacity. And then we have the Internet.

I admit freely that I am being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. You only have to look at my unadulterated turnaround on Facebook. In this very newspaper I wrote of the downsides of Social Networking, and vowed never to swan down the virtual aisles of Facebook. And whats happened? Ive become a Facebook Whore! I appreciate its networking opportunities, and I enjoy reconnecting with friends and family. I didnt realise I was so loved until I signed up. Five hundred friends, and counting. And each one of my 500+ a dear, dear friend who Im confident would lay down their lives for me. If each of my special friends gave me ¬100, Id have ¬50,000, and I know all I need do is ask. Its overwhelming to experience such intense, at times suffocating, virtual-love.

On November 5th a hackers group Anonymous have vowed to kill Facebook, stating the users privacy the reason for their actions. They appear deadly serious in their threats, having already successfully hacked several large law-enforcement and defence sites. It is important to always log out, as Facebook seems to know more about you than your family do. I am still conscious that this Social Networking site is diverting me away from my own real life into a virtual one, and stopping me from bettering myself in more real ways.

I come from a time you see when the Three Rs didnt mean Reduce, re-use and recycle, when tweeting was the noise emanating from our feathered (not virtual) friends, and when books were not viewed as outdated technology.

I suppose its whatever youre used to. If the job gets done, does it really matter how you do it?