Tilting at Bookish Windmills, Or – How the iPad Saved Spanish Language Day

I’m a reader. An avid reader (on any surface). And a teacher.

Thumbnail image for X10.jpgIt’s been almost a month since the U.S. saw the arrival of the iPad. Long lines awaited the release, and — as expected — people had mixed emotions after having one in their hands. On that Saturday morning, as with many other international events, here in Latin America we were just spectators, reading reviews of the machine and apps, and dreaming about the moment when we could get our hands on one (months away if you are going to wait for the local release of the device).

Via the web we saw power users, experts, non believers, fans… even babies and cats using their brand new tablets. And the local discussion started, but all based on speculation. No one here had one, no one had touched one, no one had stepped into a store to buy one.

All over the continent, people were starting to share ideas on how this device might affect us locally. Some (including more than a few national newspapers) declared the device an expensive failure. Others predicted that because the wait will be long, and the price high – iPad users here in South America will appreciate the device more than those in wealthier nations. Locked within walled gardens though it may be, for many down here the iPad represents a gateway to other worlds filled with opportunities and freedom.

Just a few weeks after the iPad was released in the U.S., I was lucky enough to get an iPad of my own, and shortly thereafter, I had an interesting experience.

For Spanish speaking countries, April 23rd is “Spanish Language Day.” It’s a day when we celebrate the Spanish language and honor the memory of author, poet and playwright Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.

On this day, I was at my university attending a meeting, when three children from a school in Bogotá came in to take part in a live video conference where they were to take turns reading parts of Don Quixote with an audience of readers located in Madrid.

I stayed in the room to tape the event with my camera — hoping to use the images later in my talks. But, as the teacher started to turn the pages of her  copy of the book, a look of worry came over her face…everything was ready for them to read their parts… but the edition she was holding here in Bogotá was completely different from the one being read from in Madrid!

By chance, that weekend I had decided to watch Man of La Mancha, the 1972 movie, and after that I had downloaded a copy of the book to my iPad. So, I turned on my iPad, did a little search of the words I heard being read live from Madrid, and started to read the text aloud. The face of the teacher started to shine as she asked me if I had the book and if I could I lend it to them. She was quite surprised when I handed her “the thing” from which I was reading. The kids were ecstatic and so the reading started; I was asked to turn the pages, and happily obliged. It was great to see the audience’s faces in Madrid as they realized the kids from the “third world” country were joining them with a text living in an electronic device.

When they finished, we all applauded and, surprisingly, the teacher gave me a hug and kiss. Suddenly, I was the local Don Quixote, saving the imperiled ones from calamity. “Desfacedor de entuertos,” as Cervantes would have said.

So welcome to the daily life of a Latin reader, a real 21st century “Pirate of the Caribbean” on a journey towards a global and accessible book collection (or bookstore)… because the windmills are out there, and they are not that “virtual.”

About Pablo Arrieta
Based in his homeland of Colombia, Pablo Arrieta is an architect by training, reader from childhood, and teacher/designer by vocation. Pablo runs his own training facility (Monitor CD) and is an university professor in both Universidad Javeriana and Universidad de los Andes, in Bogotá.  He has been involved in digital design and web development since 1995, and travels extensively throughout South America introducing designers to the latest software and design tools. Since 2008 he has been an active participant in the evolution of the Spanish language editorial world. Print, digital or any other surface… reading is what matters.