In this age of digital everything – from movies and shopping to communication and illustration – it is sometimes hard to remember that just eight or nine years ago we all were reading books, written on paper.
And some of us were reading a lot of them. In elementary and middle school I prided myself on the long reading list that I had my parents check off and the frequent trips into the Bookmobile (do they still have those?) filled with new adventures to read about.
While I can’t remember exactly what prompted me to be such an annihilator of written tales, I can attribute a chunk of this fervor for literary creativity on my absolute devotion to a childhood TV gem: Reading Rainbow.
From the opening theme song (with all of it wondrous mid-80s mixed media marvel) to LeVar Burton’s ending catch phrase, “but you don't have to take my word for it,” inspired so many kids to read and get excited about using their imagination. The show, sadly, was cancelled in 2006 and since then books have been walking the line between renewal and cancellation as well.
But it looks like a new generation of kids will get their chance to bask in the magic of the Reading Rainbow since Burton’s new company RRKidz is “just weeks away” from launching its Reading Rainbow app.
In honor of this event, and to help motivate the tech builders of tomorrow, Burton was the keynote speaker at the Mama Bear Conference held Friday at Microsoft by 500 Startups.
I, for one, totally geeked out over his appearance and was delighted that his message and delivery was just as I remembered from my elementary school, PBS-watching days.
“The link between what we imagine has a direct impact in that which we create,” Burton told the conference goers. “We are at an amazing, opportune nexus that combines what we imagine and what we need."
Burton shared his feelings about the power that books, imagination and sci-fi have on inspiring the engineers and developers of tomorrow and how building better ways to deliver these experiences to children is what will change the world.
It was pretty inspiring.
“Books, for me, have always been the portal of imagination,” he said.
He also pointed to his experience acting on and working behind the scenes on sci-fi television, such as Star Trek, and said that you don’t have to look any further than the devices used on that show to see where iPads, flip phones and Google Goggles came from.
But Burton pointed out the key factor in technology is teaching people how to use it as a constructive tool and not a destructive force.
While it is clear that we can build countless games and devices for children to learn on, it is still key to keep in mind that parents and other adults need to model constructive behavior for their kids to learn from. Yes, that means not texting at the dinner table or watching educational videos together rather than splitting off and playing on separate devices. Heck, even have time to put all the gadgets away and remind everyone that face-to-face contact is valuable too.
“It’s never too early to teach a child appropriate behavior. All of the modeling that they are going to do is based on watching the adults in their lives.” Burton reminded the entrepreneurs.
The RRKidz' Reading Rainbow app promises to be the right blend of enhanced digital books with some of the engaging bells and whistles that children want from tangible tech devices. I know I’m interested in seeing just what it will be.
But of course this is coming from a really big fan that may or may not have reacted like this:
I maintain that I played it cooler than that, but there is no video to prove it.
It was nice, however, to just hear someone speak very genuinely about bringing imagination and inspiration back to kids that have been thrust into a fast-moving world with fewer filters than ever before.