Thoughts on the Kindle – six months later

My friend Melissa sent me a link to this New Yorker article about the Kindle. She wanted to know how I was liking mine. I read the New Yorker article, and started to reply to her email. I think it was the New Yorker writing style that made me so verbose, but the reply turned into something much more like a blog post, so here we are. Here’s my previous post about the Kindle, over a year before I got one. (As I re-read it, I see I make lots of the same points. Ah, my sieve of a brain.)

I’m enjoying the article – the author really covers a lot about the ebook phenomenon, and the reasons Kindle has the lead. So, here are my thoughts, now that I’ve had a Kindle 2 for about 6 months:

There is this weird disconnect – you know how when you’re absorbed in a book, and you don’t even notice when you turn a page? Your hand moves, the page flips, and for a brief moment your brain suspends what it just read to flow into the new page as it’s shown. We’ve been practicing that since we were pre-readers flipping board books.

The Kindle, when you press the “next page” button, doesn’t turn a page. It reverses the colors, part of the magical e-ink thing. So, you’re reading, reading, near the end of the page, you press the button and … evil twin. It all reverses color, going dark then light and you have the next page. It was kind of upsetting to me, when I first started reading. It makes sense – I’m used to a very proscribed procedure for page turning. I recognized it for what it was, and vowed to use it till my brain learned to get over it.

It’s not that much different, really. I assume what happens is that your eyes read ahead on the last line of the page, and your brain absorbs the words as you turn the page, creating an almost seamless flow of text. There’s no reason why the Kindle experience can’t be the same. I just have to train my brain to do it.

I just finished Accelerando, a sci-fi novel which was fun to read on my futurebook. It’s the fourth book I’ve read, and I feel like at this point I’ve gotten over the page turn problem.

Jason’s been using the Kindle app on his iPhone. The account is set up to mine, so we can share books. (That is a huge downside – the DRM.) He’s read a number of books on his tiny screen, and doesn’t seem to think it’s a strain. Then again, he’s a programmer and programmed to read on screens.

I have a half of a shelf filled with books I’ve borrowed from people that I’d like to read soon so I can return them. I can’t magically throw them onto the Kindle, so the Kindle waits patiently for when I’m looking to read something I don’t already own, or have borrowed.

The Kindle has affected my library usage. The East Boston branch of BPL is a one-room library, far enough away from my apartment for it to be an effort for me to get there during their limited hours. Any branch of a library can still deliver almost any book, though – I would regularly get books from other branches, but now with a Kindle in my lap I’m willing to spend the $6 to get the book on Kindle. Now, I’d have to really not want to own it for me to get it via library. With the limited hours, I tend to have overdue books – if you count in $.50 in dues, the Kindle book price is looking better and better.

My theory is that as the technology becomes better, and more people buy in, e-books will become the way we read the kinds of things that don’t really deserve printing anyway. Newspapers, romance novels, and overrated bestsellers are all printed on crap paper, bound just enough to keep them together for a few readings. I’m happy to read those on a Kindle.

So here’s the good news for dead-tree books: I think we’ll maintain books as a format. Because they don’t require a player (unlike records, eight-track tapes, or laserdiscs) you’ll always be able to pick up a book and read it. Reading a book is a pleasurable experience, with the feel of the paper and the choice of font. Plus, always thinking to the apocalyptic, you can read books without electricity.

My hope is that great books will still be printed. Yes, I’ll use my Kindle to read the New Yorker, but it’s meant to be disposable. For someone’s birthday, though, I might give them a book – a well-bound, hardback, creamy-paged edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide, perhaps. Books will be seen as works of art as well as a medium for information. Sure, I won’t be able to keyword search the pages, but I will be able to read it while the electricity’s out.

So, the Kindle is not the end-all and be-all of my reading. I’m not getting rid of all my books like I did my audio tapes and I’m still a fan of the book experience. I’m using the Kindle maybe 20% of the time. I figure this will continue with a slow incline for the next few years, until more people are buying e-books and I won’t be able to peruse their bookshelf and ask if I can borrow something (it sure would be nice to be able to lend someone an e-book). The e-books themselves will get better, the screens clearer, the battery charge longer, and then there will come a day I will reread The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer on the ebook described in the story.

  1. interesting thoughts. I have never pondered getting a Kindle because I stare at a screen 8 hours a day for work and the mere thought of holding another one in my hand to read at the end of the day gives me the willies.

  2. I’d love to have something like the Kindle, but the DRM is a pretty huge turn-off. I forced myself to read a book on my iPhone (using the Stanza app) – I read Iain M. Banks’ “Use of Weapons” and was sufficiently absorbed that I adjusted to reading on the screen just fine. I liked that it kept my exact position for me, and that I could whip it out of my pocket if I was waiting in a queue somewhere.

    It pales in comparison to reading a real book though, so I await a better device on which to do my ebook reading.

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