I'm not new to this kind of device: in 2006 I enjoyed putting the first generation Sony Reader through its paces. I loved the reading experience; it's a shame everything else about the Sony Reader was poor.
From the cumbersome software to the closed technology which severely restricted the types of files it would display, the entire offering was seriously flawed. To add injury to insult, the Reader died after about 2 months of use. D-e-a-d dead.
The experience put me off purchasing another e-reader and, being a somewhat snobbish Sony fanboy, I had turned up my nose when considering the Kindle.
However, after spending the past year eyeing nothing but positive reviews of the Kindle, my cold, cold heart was beginning to thaw.
That's when Santa propped the erstwhile device under my tree.
Long Time Coming
I should say up front: I am likely pre-disposed to love the Kindle. It embodies everything I want to happen in the world.
- I want the world to consume less paper.
- I want the experience of reading on paper - without the paper.
- I want an unfathomable amount of information at my fingertips, day and night.
- I want my library to update automatically and seamlessly.
- I want to be able to take my library literally everywhere.
The Kindle is the first device which begins to elegantly deliver on all of these things.
An e-Reader's Lament
If you're looking for a sentimental lament about the demise of books, reading, the paperback and society in general with the advent of e-readers, forget it. You'll get none such nonsense from me.
In fact, the sooner we can relegate paperbacks as antiques the better, any romantic notion that reading should only be done on paper is severely short-sighted and regressive.
I'm not coming to confiscate your precious editions in some Bradburian nighmare, but ask yourself: in 150 years, what will be the de facto medium for consuming the written word? Will it be paper-based? Or a method altogether electronic?
The answer, of course, is self-evident but not yet reason alone to consign the dead-tree delivery mechanism to history's rubbish bin. That would be more than a bit harsh. Nevertheless, the reality of obsolescence is about to bite for fervent fans of the paper-based book variety.
The Kindle is important, not just as an enabling technology but for what it represents. In the same way Generation X was the last to grow up in the analog, non-networked world, my Millennial Generation will be the last to know books in paper form alone.
Those born today will face a novel (ho ho) question: shall I buy a book – Hound of the Baskervilles, say – of paper, covering the costs of production, marketing and profit for the entire supply chain? Or download it? For free?
Weapon of Political influence
Stripped of paper's romance, simple economics suggests the winner will be the e-book. In fact while you're at it: why not download the entire Conan Doyle canon? It's free, yours in seconds.
That's today. Imagine choices for readers in the year 2110.
For those contemporary titles one would be expected to purchase – in digital form or otherwise – the elimination of the distribution channel is liberating. The rich half of the world will dedicate fewer resources to logging, pulping, transporting, printing, stocking and disseminating paper.
The poor half of the world will have access to books for a fraction of the costs faced to date. After all, without those expensive handling processes above to pay for, digital copies can be profitable at a significantly lower price.
Access is key. Poverty and illiteracy are the scourge of democracy and liberal capitalism the world over; illuminating the four corners of the planet with the Library of Humanity is the first, best assault against ignorance and intolerance.
Mighty ambitions for the humble Kindle, to be sure.
Each passing paperback will likely fuel lamentations of traditionalists: "At what cost?" they will ask, an understandable question for those who have known nothing else.
But the Kindle and its cheaper, better heirs will inevitably prove a more durable, pervasive and effective torchbearer for literature and knowledge. It will flip the question on its head, propositioning these same skeptics a far more awkward conundrum: at what cost, books?
I've been living with the Kindle for a month and it's the real deal.
I've downloaded dozens of public domain books – including Mr. Conan Doyle's excellent canon – and purchased a few to boot, such as Cormack McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning The Road, a story I interpret as man's demise caused by the immutable effects of global warming. Interesting.
The Kindle is excellent in every way the Sony Reader was not: it has a free, wireless network connection; it happily handles a wide variety of book formats; an impressive library of titles is available for purchase at your fingertips, ready to deliver when you're ready to buy.
It's slick and – protestations aside about the outrageous extra costs Amazon charges because I don't live in the States – it's ready for prime time.
By all means: keep your books. Build your library; caress those frayed and adored tomes; linger over the sweet, seductive smell of printed parchment and wallow in the luxury of words flowing, page after page, like liquid prose.
Hold on to it.
Hold on as long as you can.