Are you ready for another cranky, technophobic rant?
Good. Kindle. What exactly are the advantages to a “delicate piece of electronics” that
can be lost, dropped or fried in the tub[?] You’d have to buy an awful lot of $10 best sellers to recoup the purchase price. If Amazon goes under or abandons the Kindle, you lose your entire library. And you can’t pass on or sell an e-book after you’ve read it.
For the absurd price of $359, this too can be yours! This does not include the $60 wireless bill each Kindle runs up per month, since Amazon is footing the bill (for now.) Now, I’ve always been a skeptic of these enthusiasms for replacing paper and ink, especially for replacing them with “delicate” electronics. (I used to have this argument all the time with Fratguy, who back in the 1990s was for the Palm Pilot as Creflo Dollar is for Jesus. My answer? I’d throw my FiloFax calendar and address book on the floor, open it up, and exclaim, “Looky! It still works! Praise the Lord.”)
Are the people who invented these things readers of books themselves? The whole point of book technology as it has evolved to the present is that you can take books to the beach, read them in the bathtub, and read them under the covers with a flashlight to evade the ridiculously early bed time your parents have established. You also can mark them up by underlining favorite passages, or you can engage in mockery of the author and her ideas with your witty marginalia. You can then pass your marked-up books along to friends and graduate students, who will think you’re an idiot for underlining (or mocking) those passages. I can see how people who travel a lot and read a lot would find Kindle appealing, since they could download and take a dozen books with them without adding bulk, but how many people both travel and read so much that the weight of their books in their luggage is a major factor in their quality of life?
Here’s an important and very serious question: will Kindle make its way into public libraries? Will libraries buy readers for users to check out, or will they expect all users to purchase their own (as they now much purchase their own DVD players in order to use the library’s DVDs)? Will Amazon charge a different price for e-books that are purchased by public libraries? Will they ask for a kickback every time a borrower downloads an e-book? How much of the budget will be allocated for e-books, which may be available only to a select subset of library users, and how much will be allocated for books which can be read by all users? Libraries are important in a democracy, and so is the democratic availability of information.
Now, think about this: How will we know who’s reading a “bad book?” What fun would it be to engage in “Kindle burning?” Would everyone just agree to simultaneously press “delete” on The Bluest Eye and Huckleberry Finn on their children’s Kindles at the same time? That’s no way to do political theater, and about as meaningful as aspiring to write the Great American Blog.
Gutenberg: after nearly 600 years, we still need you, pal. Now, let the (probably justified) accusations of Ludditism begin!
NOTE: After I finished drafting this post, I found this interview with Jeff Bezos about Kindle at The Daily Show, via The Daily Beast. Jon Stewart isn’t sold, to say the least, and he makes many of the points I make here. Except with masturbation jokes (ick!), which generally don’t get a broad airing here.