Ode to the Kindle
At ten point two ounces, so slim and sleek,
Your easy access library provides
Over two hundred thousand texts to seek–
Physical versions can be cast aside.
With a daily commute I dread the weight
Of words intended to lighten the day
Your narrow margin’s negligible freight
Eases my burden, my posture and sway.
Outside in the sun without noticed glare,
I can read for days without recharging.
Large print archives do not even compare
To font options with easy enlarging.
So let paper, ink, and cardboard dwindle
As I enjoy the e-reader, The Kindle.
I will admit it–I covet my neighbor’s Kindle. On a train or on a bus, I can’t resist looking at the small, portable screen and thinking, “I want to go to there.” I spend at least two hours every work day in public transit, carrying around a leather messenger bag with wallet, keys, cellphone, tupperware, and, of course, a book. Or two. Or occasionally three, depending on how many I have borrowed from a friend or a library in the last week. Amazon’s Kindle, and the newly released Kindle 2, is designed to hold over 1500 books, solving that heavy bag, hurting back problem. Not only does the device make for easy subway reading, but the 3G wireless availability solves the problem of finishing a book in the morning and having nothing for the return trip. All for essentially the same price or cheaper than a trip to the bookstore.
The Kindle triumphs over the hardcopy in both personal cleanliness and environmental consciousness. No more accumulation of piles of paperbacks in apartments of limited size. No more boxes of books lying in a basement unread for years, waiting to be ruined by a flood, or mold, or a fire. Instead of cutting down a tree to produce novels that will sit as remainders until being pulped, the text exists in digital space until one is ready for it.With the library backup up option, no more accidentally buying duplicates.
It is important to note that the Kindle is an e-reader. It is designed to read books and other texts. It is not an iphone, a PSP, or a laptop.It’s function is to convey text. Because that is the function of a book, a newspaper, or a pdf. Technologies change. Do we mourn the loss of the stone tablet or the papyrus scroll? Of course not, because something better came along. That something better has just been transferred to a 8″ x 5.3″, 16 level grey scale form. For those who want to treat books otherwise, as art-objects, I say go buy a first edition, bound in leather. Or better, go buy an actual art-object like a painting. Just don’t expect to easily carry it around the subway.
HOWARD MEGDAL: I am not one to eschew technology. I adore the Internet. I revel in watching sports in HD. And I strongly prefer my IPod during workouts to lugging around an enormous phonograph player.
But there is something wrong with trying to improve upon the book. I fear the consequences of a world with books giving way to an electronic holster for them.
Growing up in my parents’ house, I often came across interesting books on shelves lining many of the rooms. I wouldn’t have sought these books out-indeed, it is not possible to seek what you don’t know exists. But the Kindle wouldn’t consist of random books-they’d be the books we ourselves bought. And if my children walk around my house someday, what will they see? What can I possibly stock on the shelves that can provide them the hours of entertainment and access to other worlds that books can?
There’s also an important point Perpetual Post contributor Jeff Eldridge brought up during our editorial discussion- books require a commitment. A commitment of time, but a commitment of attention. Whether it was being brought up directly before computer reading became the norm (The Internet didn’t really take off until I was in high school), there’s a difference in my level of concentration when I read the New York Times and when I read the New York Times online. Again, I also run into a self-selecting problem- the print edition allows me to read articles I simply don’t seek out online. Maybe I am different than others- but I suspect this is common.
Nobody wanted to carry the honeymoon luggage filled with a half-dozen books less than I did back when I got married. But if the price to pay is the elimination of a perfectly-attuned art form, both in terms of scope and ability to pass onto future generations, then I am happy to do what is necessary. I didn’t want to call racists all over the country and emphasize Barack Obama’s white mother last October, either. But I did. Some tasks are worth it for the greater good.