Amazon announced the release of the Kindle today, the Kindle being their new digital reading device. (Actually, it appears it is officially referred to as not “the Kindle,” but just “Kindle.” How awkward. I suspect that won’t last.) Anyway, it is, in any case, a new attempt to create a workable digital book that people will actually use for more than a few months, before they put it down as a curiosity and go back to reading real, physical books.
Now, I have to admit, the descriptions of this thing that I heard on NPRon my drive home sound pretty good. It’s not backlit, which will presumably cut down on the “I stare at a flickering screen all day already, this gives me a headache” factor. It uses digital paper with electronic “ink” dots that rearrange themselves when you “turn” the page and then go inert. It can also purportedly store up to 200 books in its memory, and can download more wirelessly.
I’m not really sure how I feel about this. I admit, when I heard it could store 200 books, I briefly entertained a vision of reducing all my bookshelves and piles of books all around the house into three or four Kindles. How futuristic! How sci-fi! If I were going to be moving abroad a lot again, I’d be sorely, sorely tempted. Plus, no more trips to the used bookstore to dispose of all the bestseller mysteries I’ll never read more than once.
But what about the books? Here’s what Amazon founder Jeff Bezos says about his vision for (the) Kindle in the letter he posted on Amazon’s front page today:
I love slipping into a comfortable chair for a long read – as I relax into the chair, I also relax into the author’s words, stories, and ideas. The physical book is so elegant that the artifact itself disappears into the background. The paper, glue, ink, and stitching that make up the book vanish, and what remains is the author’s world.
I’ve also been infatuated with the idea of electronic books. The booklover in me often has asked the nerd in me, “Is there a way to get the emotions and experiences I love from books, but combined with the possibilities of advanced technology? Can something as evolved as the book be improved?”…
Kindle does indeed “disappear” like a physical book – it won’t get between you and your reading. I think you’ll also be genuinely amazed by the convenience of books in less than a minute.
And this is where I start to doubt that Kindle will truly be all that different from its various digital book predecessors, because all the true book lovers I know, myself included, also have a love for the form of the book. I have been known to import books from other countries, just so I can a whole series all in the same cover art style. (I am not alone in this, I swear!) There’s something very comforting about being able to see the books all lined up together, to see the kind of paper they were printed on, to see their covers and spines every time you close them, to compare different editions from different points in time, to be able to rearrange them, or have several open at once, or to loan them to other people. And I remain skeptical that Kindle will feel as natural and comfortable in my hands as a real book, but I can’t say, as I’ve never seen one in person. (I feel I’m making a pretty good guess, based on what it looks like on the Amazon product page, though.)
I don’t know. Maybe Kindle will appeal to people who really do just value the words that make up the story over the actual book, and I can really understand why. Maybe I’d own fewer actual books if I kept the ones I didn’t care that much about on a Kindle. Maybe this really will interest more “young people” in reading, as was proposed in that NPR interview, because now there will be an associated gadget. Maybe this is how the shift to more digital forms of music happened, and real music junkies insisted they would never let go of their vinyl/tapes/CDs/physical media. And how will we ever get to that Star Trek future, where everyone has a wafer-thin, shiny, multimedia, clipboard-like thingy with all the information they could ever want, in any form they could ever want it, on their person at all times, if we don’t start now?
Other thoughts? Would you want one? Do you think you’d use one? Have you used digital readers in the past? What has been your experience?
-posted by Dana