Wednesday, February 1, 2012

No Frigate Like It

My first admission is this - I like my Kindle. With that said, I'll get to those aspects that I like first.

So, honestly, how much do you love Jane Austen? Or Shakespeare, maybe? Or Dickens, Twain, and Wilde? The absolute best thing about the Kindle is the fact that books whose copyright statutes have passed are available for free. Within minutes, I was holding in the palm of my hand the complete works of Jane Austen, William Shakespeare and Emily Bronte. I was absolutely giddy in that moment. I spent hours going through and skimming sonnets and passages I remember loving, and I didn't even have to move. I mean, that's a dream right? You get the desire to read a classic, and suddenly it just appears in front of you and weighs ounces. It's kind of like magic.

There's also that 'weighing ounces' factor. I've been in the habit of carrying a book with me for a long time, and honestly, I think it may be at least part of why my left shoulder is always tense. With the Kindle, however, the tiny little contraption slides snugly into my purse, and it weighs less than that of my wallet.

Lastly, for the rare textbook that you can get on the Kindle, it's pretty amazing for us students. It's cheaper, faster, and by its very nature I can carry that and a book I am not being forced to read without killing my back. Sure, I can't sell it back, but there is a significant price difference already, and at least if I don't want it taking up space on my shelf later I can easily delete. I actually think the education aspect of e-readers is going to be their greatest contribution.  Imagine a world where our backs aren't a mess by the time we're twenty because of lugging text books around. Or where you never have to curse yourself while sitting on the bus for leaving your reading for the week at home on nightstand.

Oh, and the fact that when you look-up a word it highlights it, is nothing to scoff at.  Because honestly, who has time to go back and look up the words they underlined (you know you do it too)?

All of those wondrous things said, I do have my issues with it.

Firstly, on a more practical note, at least for the touch screen Kindle, there is an issue with page turning. You tap the page to turn it, and as long as you tap in the right place, it will simply turn the page for you. But if you accidently tap somewhere else, or twice by accident, you end up in an entirely different part of the book. Sure, sometimes you lose your place while reading a book. You drop it by accident, or something distracts you and your finger slips and thumbs you forward. That's pretty few and far between, though. With my Kindle it happens at least three times for about every half and hour I use it. And honestly, who wants to make a concerted effort at page turning when they're engrossed in something they're reading?

Second, I like to flip forward in my books to see how much I have left till the end of the chapter, and you can't do that with a Kindle. When I get that urge and I can't do it, the e-reader suddenly feels very alien and I find myself rushing to get to the end of the chapter. In fact, navigating between parts of the Kindle in general is the worst aspect of the Kindle, and arguably the thing I like about it the least. I had a travel guide on it while I was in New Orleans recently, and it was incredibly frustrating. The maps in the book were broken up into quarters, so I couldn't actually view them all at once, and going between subsections of the book was next to impossible.

More than anything else though, an e-reader just isn't a book. I'm not comforted by or taken to a far off place just by looking at my Kindle on my nightstand. I can't cuddle up with my Kindle, or run my fingers over it's pages. I can't look amused at old notes I've taken years later (Okay, yes, you can highlight and take notes with a Kindle, but they just compile into a list that you can go through and jump to that section. It's just not the same). And I know it's not trying to be a book necessarily, but it falls very short of being equal. There's no wear on it. One of my favorite possessions was my Central America travel guide whose pages were bright orange because clay got on them from the site of the archaeological dig on which I was working. I brought a piece of Mayan history physically back on my book. Something as special as that is not only impossible with an e-reader, there's a good chance it would break it.

Bottom line, you just can’t replicate the physical world in zeroes and ones. I’m grateful for all that technology has given me (and I also think that it will bring about the end of humanity, but you know, grateful in a near sited way), but books have lived lives with the people who own them. They take on personalities beyond their texts and, for some of us, were the best friends we had growing up and sometimes still are. Until they find a way to reproduce an e-reader that can grow with it’s owner the way a book can, I just don’t think it’ll ever really be a substitute for those of us that were raised on books. The reality is, though, that the more widespread e-readers get, the younger generations will find a place in their lives for e-readers, and hopefully their hearts in a way I just can’t understand.

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