The problems of the Kindle

inspiration_bookshelvesAh Kindle, how the literati hate you, or sing your praises. Two years ago, when the first version was released, Dana posted about them and I made my feelings clear in the comments section. Well, it’s been a few year and we now have Kindle 2.0. My feelings haven softened, but not really changed.

I do not really want a Kindle at the moment for a few reason:

1. They are expensive. Do you know how many books I can buy with that money?

2. There’s not (yet) a mechanism yet for sharing Kindle books. If I buy a Kindle book, I can’t loan it to my friends and I can’t check out a Kindle book from the library. (I can check out other e-books from the library–can I read these on my Kindle? I don’t know. Do you?)

3. I fear reading a Kindle in the bathtub, which is the best place to read books ever.

4. Books smell good. And they’re pretty as objects.

5. Do they have an optional back light yet? While I do like that there isn’t one there by default, it would nice to have one so you can read in the dark.

6. Seriously dude, expensive.

I think some of these objections will fall away with later versions– price will fall, I’m sure we’ll figure lending out…

BUT! Over at Marginal Revolution today, another problem presents itself that I never thought of–

We can’t see what you’re reading, and you can’t signal things with what you’re reading.

I’ve posted before about judging you by your books.

So, on one hand this is nice–I can read all the Gossip Girl and Twilight I want on the metro and no one will know and so I won’t feel weird about it. On the other hand, how are you supposed to pick up chicks in the coffee shop by conspicuously displaying your copy of Ulysses?

Sitting at the coffee shop reading a Kindle shows that I’m an early adopter of technology. Doing the same thing, but reading the newspaper in print shows something different and it shows something different if I’m reading a textbook, or if I’m reading Oprah’s latest pick, or if I’m reading in a foreign language, or if I’m reading Twilight, of if I’m reading Mao’s Last Revolution, or if I’m reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. All those minor distinctions, which make people watching so much fun, are lost, because if you’re using a Kindle (or, let’s me honest, ANY e-book reader thing) I’m not looking at you as a reader, but as a technology user.

Discovering you and your partner need to break up over literary tastes will be harder now. It is so much easier to discover the object of your affection is in love with your of your literary deal-breakers if you can, you know, scan his bookshelves.

And now what will I do when I come over to your house? I can no longer look at how many bookshelves you have and what’s on them to help me discover your character.

I like the signals I send based on the book I’m reading. I actually do enjoy the silliness of deciding what book to bring based on the signals I want to send. I like that once you are invited into my house, you can see my full shelves and get a much more complete picture of my interests, my likes, my professional duties, and who I am. The amount of space devoted to shelves says something about me. The amount of books falling off those shelves says something about me. What those books are say a lot about me.

All those things together say a lot more about me than a Kindle does, or ever can. Sometimes, the privacy of a Kindle is a nice thing, but the overall picture I present to the world with my books isn’t something I’m willing to give up yet.



6 Responses to The problems of the Kindle

  1. […] on over to today’s Geek Buffet for a hilarious and great reason to hate the Kindle (including the 2.0): you’ll no longer be […]

  2. Mrs. F-B says:

    I really want a Kindle because I travel a lot, but I agree, seriously dude, expensive. Plus, I really liked what you said about the whole people watching aspects of books, which I hadn’t really consciously thought about before, but which I love to do. I was on a plane yesterday, and it was so great walking up and down the aisle seeing all the different books people were reading. It makes me feel like I belong to a community of readers in a way I might not if everyone had Kindle instead. But it sure would be nice not to have to lug all those books around…

  3. M. Molly says:

    Jennie, I completely agree with you on the judging aspect. The first thing I do upon walking into someone’s house is examine their bookshelf(/ves) to see if I want to befriend her, crush on her, or mock her. Recently I was visiting someone who has a lovely house, and I couldn’t figure out why, for all the nice furniture and pretty Van Gogh reproductions on the walls, the place seemed to be missing a heart. After a while, I finally realized: the owner has two books in the entire house. TWO. BOOKS. One, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Two, Tuesdays With Morrie. Seeing as how these are both the kinds of books people tend to lend one another, I can’t help but suspect this person may, in fact, own NO BOOKS, which — let’s face it! — clearly means I could never actually be friends with this person.

    The advent of the ipod has made judging people by their music collections much more difficult. In the good old days, you could just stroll over to their stack of mix tapes or tower of CDs and scan the list. Kenny G? John Tesh? Yanni at Red Rocks? We’re not going to be friends. Wilco & the Cure & some Beatles & maybe a Madonna or Monster Ballads thrown in? BFFs.

    I hate to think of a future in which I actually have to ask people in person what they’ve been reading lately in order to properly judge. Talking? Out loud? So much work!

    Of course, with lovely sites like goodreads, maybe I’ll still be able to judge. I’ll walk into your house, see your Kindle sitting on the coffee table, whip out my iphone, demand your goodreads user name, and bury myself in judgmental judgyness. Ah, the future.

  4. Feh. I will admit to having mixed feelings on the subject of “social signaling” with media. While at one level I find this sort of advertising potentially pretentious, media is one of the elements that helps us to define our own little subcultures. As previous commenters have stated: one of the first things I’ll do when I come into someone else’s home is to look at the literature they have on their shelves, and the music and video nestled into racks.

    Nowadays, this sometimes requires a far more personal access to their media-center hard-drive. It is centralized… but it does not display as well. Which is part of why I am not sure that the “book” will ever completely diminish as a form of personal art. There really is something very nice and very tangible about holding one in your hand that is altogether pleasing; the smell of fresh paper and binding ink on a new one, and the must of mildew on an older volume.

    Perhaps a smaller LCD screen on the back of the Kindle might display something akin to the book title running along the spine of a traditional volume?

  5. Dana says:

    Penny Arcade had an insightful comic about why the book will never die as well:

  6. Chris Juricich says:

    Yah, the Kindle vexes me. I’ve had a hardon for electronic book-readers for years and actively followed the tech and the rest of it, but as Jenny pointed out, some of the aspects to the Kindle still bug me:

    1) it’s still too expensive
    2) how many people really want to carry around that much literature with them…what? 1500 books? Who would even have the time to read them–my time for reading is snatched at bedtime, lunch, and elsewhen. I can finish a book in a week; I don’t need 1500 of them.
    3) it’s still too expensive! What’s more, the electronic versions of the books are too expensive…$10 for a bestseller? Maybe…

    Cool thing is that magazines and newspapers are available on it, and finding a newspaper from a machine that works in the SF Bay Area is a real trick. Of course, you can’t do crosswords on a Kindle, can you?

    I guess I’m waiting for a more fulsome, complete type of thing. A bookreader, comics available on the bookreader (comic books, what can I say?), a clock, timepiece, games like Tetris, email, internet…and thin like the Kindle. It’ll happen someday, but in the meantime, the existing tech of ‘books’ in print will continue to work well enough for me.

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