A former Amazon executive who helped Jeff Bezos turn shopping into a digital experience has set out to end illiteracy. David Risher is now the head of Worldreader, a nonprofit organization that brings e-books to kids in developing countries through Kindles and cellphones.
Risher was traveling around the world with his family when he got the idea for Worldreader. They were doing volunteer work at an orphanage in Ecuador when he saw a building with a big padlock on the door. He asked a woman who worked there what was inside, and she said, “It’s the library.”
“I asked, ‘Why is it locked up?’ And she said it took too long for books to get there,” says Risher. “[The books] came by boat and by the time they got there, they were uninteresting to the kids. And I said, ‘Well, can we take a look inside? I’d like to see this.’ And she said, ‘I think I’ve lost the key.’ ”
This, Risher thought, can be fixed. If it’s so hard to give kids access to physical books, why not give them e-books and the digital devices they would need to read them? Risher had joined Amazon at its beginning, helping it grow into the dominant online retailer it is today. He felt he could apply some of the lessons he had learned at Amazon to the problem of illiteracy.
Here’s the Worldreader homepage. I really hope this project takes off.
And, as I have written in this New Atlantis essay, I am watching closely to see how these developments, and the very widespread and still increasing use of cellphones in Africa, will affect Christianity. Many of the people who get e-readers from Worldreader will be Christians, and perhaps the majority of those will download Bibles to their e-readers. What translations will they choose? Will those who encounter the Bible primarily or exclusively in digital form read it in discernibly different ways than those who read it in codices? This inquiring mind really wants to know.