"Teach your children to read before you teach them to surf," this is an oft-heard aphorism from high-minded literati who lament the Internet's relentless encroachment on the printed word.
In a society where more and more children are drawn to computer or TV images rather than bedtime stories, where more and more teenagers prefer battling in on-line games to poring over novels about past wars, the point can be well made.
The rise of the Internet and multimedia, however, do not necessarily blight children's interest in reading. On Dec. 2, the Broadcasting Development Fund (BDF) launched a string of seminars and campaigns promoting reading, and will explore how electronic media can foster new forms of education for the nation's youth.
"Technology inevitably alters the mind, and a juvenile mind is most susceptible to new technology," BDF chief executive officer Connie Lin (林育卉) said in the first seminar last Thursday.
"While hope for the advent of interactive TV are expressed by major broadband providers here, few media-savvy people know what kind of impact these interactive platforms have on children," Lin said.
"What the BDF is trying to do is see whether we can turn the sweeping force of interactive media into a catalyst for promoting reading among children," she said.
Will children grow into creative, independent thinkers with the aid of interactive media? To answer the question, the BDF brought together publishing companies and Internet service providers who worked together to merge popular fairy tales with the latest multimedia. Since July, the nation's largest telephone operator, Chunghwa Telecom, added fairy tales to its program list of Multimedia on Demand (MOD) service -- something akin to television through a phone line. The publishing firm Grimm Press offered original stories and artistic illustrations to the endeavor, while Imagetech Co adapted them into two-dimensional animation. Parents who subscribe Chunghwa Telecom's MOD can rent a fairy tale for only NT$80, for a period of 30 days. Using a computer, children can read modern adaptations of Little Red Riding Hood or The Frog Prince. If children want more information on the story, they have the option to explore related reading material.
"E-fairy tales combine the advantages of TV and computer," said Krist Lee (
"They will no longer be passive viewers but become participants in the story," she added.
The Chunghwa Telecom officials echoed Imagetech's optimism for the project. The company hailed its MOD promotion as a new medium that will return the control to the viewer, who can select, forward, skip any clips in the movie, news, sports -- and of course -- the fairy tale channel.
"On the interactive platform, viewers are no longer victims of infotainment. Viewers, not data providers, are the masters of the media," said Joy Hsu (徐祖詒), director of the company's multimedia department. Whether the new genre will lure children and develop reading habits remains to be seen. Reading, remodeled to be a participatory activity, could mean more fun and greater autonomy for children -- or simply become another fad if the e-fairy tales are poorly delivered.