Do kids provide a role for paper?

It is easy to circumvent news and information written on paper entirely. I for instance solely read online foreign newspapers. My wife does the same. Until very recently, I also cut back on any subscriptions to hard copies of anything, including academic journals. The family’s consumption of information was thus all electronic. We even no longer watched normal television because of the annoying adds and instead we simply rented or downloaded content without advertising.

Yet, there was a cost to all this efficient low-cost information consumption that we were not aware of and that made us radically switch back to hard copies when we became aware of it: our kids were not exposed to any news, scientific discoveries, or political debates. They saw us reading websites but would not themselves stumble across those websites. They heard us debate in terms that were so foreign to what they knew that they treated our debates similar to how I would treat overhearing conversations in ancient Sanskrit.

Thus, whilst we parents got our fix of real information, our kids never stumbled across the right material and instead became expert online gamers and exceedingly well versed in everything Star Trek.

Realising that we were raising kids with no knowledge of real news, scientific discoveries, or the world of informed debate, we radically switched. We now as a family watch regular television news (though not the US or Australian variety), have subscriptions to hard copies of Science magazines, and we have subscriptions to political debate magazines.

It has to be said, these magazines suck. They are full of opinionated mistakes, especially when it concerns social phenomena. Also, there is nothing in these magazines that is not available for free online. Indeed, what is available online, if you know where to look, is of far higher quality.

But, to our delight, the kids read the magazines in the toilet or browse through them when they come home from school. They now know who Osama Bin Laden is; what the difference is between Sufism and Salafism; that physicists increasingly think multiple universes exist; and that there was an unpunished humanitarian tragedy in Sri Lanka in 2009.

So, stuff ipads, kindles, and other e-readers! In order to get kids aware of what is going on in this world, you have to make sure they accidentally stumble across physical objects that they hold in their hands and that they see the parents read. Sure, you can try to remember to put kindles in the way of your kids that have the right newspaper articles in them, but think of the effort that would require. Much easier to pay subscription fees and litter the house with paper.

Of course, once the habit of being interested in science, history, and debate is ingrained, we will forego this farce and return to a paper-free environment. By then, we will have plenty of glossy toilet paper.

Author: paulfrijters

Professor of Wellbeing and Economics at the London School of Economics, Centre for Economic Performance

One thought on “Do kids provide a role for paper?”

  1. We have several subscriptions for the same reasons. Even though they use the iPad often, they seem to explore more when the medium is printed. It’s like each turn of the page reveals something exciting, while each swipe is just a swipe.


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