The Kindle has a future, and other revelations from fourth graders

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I spent 90 100 minutes this morning being interrogated by Curious Capitalist Jr.’s fourth grade class. He didn’t ask any questions, but his classmates sure did. This was partly because they knew they had to take a math test as soon as I left, and thus had ample incentive to prolong my visit, but it was still impressive. Just to complicate things, all the questions were in Spanish (it’s a dual-language class, and today was Spanish day). I don’t speak Spanish well at all, so there was a lot of bad grammar, a lot of “┬┐Como se dice ‘financial’?” questions from me, and occasional topics where I just gave up and spoke English. But we got by.

One thing I learned was that several of the kids in the class are clearly fascinated by their parents’ Kindles. They wanted to know if my columns were available on Kindle (the answer: yes), if my book would be on Kindle (answer: I assume so), etc. So the consumers of the future like electronic books. Big surprise.

Another very clear takeaway was that by far the most interesting thing about journalism to a fourth grader is the people you get to meet. (“You’ve talked to Bill Clinton?!?”) In this new age of relentless verbiage manufacturing, I actually don’t get out and meet nearly as many people as I used to. Which is something I really need to work on.

Fourth graders find neuroeconomics interesting, too. Somebody asked me what article I’d written that I was most proud of, and I thought of a piece I’d done for Fortune about brain science and retirement savings. While reporting it I stuck my head in an MRI machine and was asked whether I preferred a $16.33 Amazon.com gift certificate in a month or a $24.43 gift certificate in six weeks. They were totally into that. (And no, I didn’t even try to explain it in Spanish.)

Finally, one of the kids asked what my first magazine article was about. I couldn’t remember, but now I’ve found it. And there was a question about whether I’d ever reported on any crimes. Why yes I had, I said, and told them about Sammy Joe Michael Duncan, who escaped from Bibb County Jail in Alabama in 1989 by filing away the mortar between a few bricks in the wall of his cell, knocking out the bricks, stripping naked, slathering himself with toothpaste, and squeezing through the tiny hole in the wall. He was captured a few days later hiding out in a house about two blocks from the jail. They liked that story.