This week Maisie Skidmore wonders whether digital publishers should be pandering to the reduced attention spans of the iGeneration and shorten classic children’s books. As ever you can add your thoughts using the thread below.
Winnie the Pooh and his bumbling adventures have enchanted children since 1926, but this week it was revealed that the most recent digital reinterpretation of the classic books have been abridged, in order to cater to the reduced attention span of children of the internet generation.
So alongside the newly animated illustrations – one of which features the well-loved bear taking a quick snap of The Shard on his iPhone – the stories have been shortened to hook children in more quickly. Publishers Egmont Press have defended their decision to abridge the stories as a reflection of the changing needs of publishing formats. “Today’s children’s attention spans are slightly different to how they were in 1926,” Kristian Knak, experience designer at Egmont Press explained to The Times. “We have a minute to get them on board. If not, they will move on to the next app.”
The decision to abridge the stories is, of course, a reflection of the changing way in which our generation absorbs literature; the rapid growth of eBooks dominates the current literary market, and as such it is only logical that the growing trends reverberate in the field of children’s books. In some respects then the decision to shorten the stories seems to be a careful response to a difficult predicament.
Tim Jones, a publisher at Egmont, insisted this was not a decision that was taken lightly. He said: “We’ve been working with illustrations that are 85 years old, and which have a place in British culture, illustrations that are greatly loved. We had to look at it very sensitively, and that’s what we’ve tried to do.”
Still, while I appreciate and encourage the efforts of a publishing house to engage with the digital and eBook format – reading is reading, after all – the decision to shorten a children’s story in order to hold their attention seems, as far as I’m concerned, to defeat the object. We read to children to stimulate their imaginations, to encourage both written and verbal communication and to help them to develop lively, interesting and engaging opinions on subject matter they are consuming. Surely, then, reducing the content prevents the advancement of the very skill-set that this app looks to develop?
Those who are similarly concerned about the potential repercussion of such a decision should, at the very least, take some heart at the media’s response to the news. Equal parts confused, indignant and troubled, the overall feeling appears to be that if we continue to pander to short attention spans in this way, we run the risk of raising a generation of people who – unless they are hooked within the first 60 seconds – are unable to participate in a conversation, let alone read a novel.