Mponda and I had a late night conversation about eBooks. He is in his late twenties and unusual for a Tanzanian. Having lived in Europe and traveled extensively, he returned to his country to help his people rise out of ignorance and poverty through education, one student at a time.

Before I even raised my concerns for electronic reading, he said clearly, “eBooks are not what Africa needs. It is just one more electronic device which needs charging, one more thing to break and be discarded. When a learner is given a book, he or she will disconnect from the world for a while and dive in. Kids need novels, not just text books. They need to be given joy in reading as well as reading for education if they are to keep reading for a lifetime.”

I added, “Paperbacks have volume, weight, and a sense of three dimensional accomplishment. A chapter read is a chapter closer to the conclusion with each page folded one-by-one.”

“Yes, exactly!” he confirmed. Bernard, my adopted son had inadvertently initiated this conversation when he discovered a massive, more than 5KG book called “The Medicine of Africa,” an alphabetical list of every known disease and ailment on the Continent. It was daunting, but Bernard’s eyes lit up when he realized how valuable this would be for his degree in Community Health. It was the size that struck him in a way an eBook never could. The kinesthetic reviewing of the index or random flipping of pages gave it a sense of depth and power which a single electronic page is missing and will never offer.

Dozens, hundreds, even ten thousand books in a single, hand-held device is not power of education, rather it is a total distraction just as email and Facebook has kept an entire generation of well intended employees from getting much of anything done. Electronic devices keep us engaged in myriad communications while a printed book in and of itself is an excuse, a means to turn off and just read.