Thoughts on the Kindle; or, what I think about e-readers

Until yesterday, I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about here.  This is my Wednesday post, after all, and I want to bring you something from my life, my world, and my mind.  Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a lot going on.  A lot of sitting around and reading. I’ve been getting myself into weekly workout and cleaning routines, but that’s not exciting. Nah.

Then, I remembered a Twitter conversation I had with a friend on Monday.  Earlier, she had posted that she was thinking about getting a Kindle, because she thought it would help her read more.  She then asked me what I thought about them.

At least they’re not iPads

Well… I’ve definitely had my share of thoughts on e-readers.  Dedicated readers of this blog might remember my one-, two-, and three-part rant against the Apple iPad.  I will admit, though, that my thoughts on the iPad are clouded by my general antagonism against Apple.  Apple products, as I’ve said, are outrageously expensive, as well as obnoxious status symbols flaunted by those privileged enough to own them.  The iPad was yet another in their stable of beautiful, over-priced gadgets, and I have yet to buy any arguments as to their usefulness.

Along these lines, my biggest beef with the iPad was their price—$500 for a base model—especially if you’re using it as an e-reader.  I figured that, for $500, I could buy two years worth of books at used bookstores.  Since any iPad you buy in 2010 would be ridiculously outdated in 2012 (thus the impetus to spend an additional $500 on a new one), for me, an iPad simply didn’t make financial sense.

Can I love an e-book?

Now, Kindles are something different.  You can get a Kindle for less than $200.  For some readers, that might make them affordable.  Kindles might also be convenient for those in certain professions—such as publishing!  Instead of lugging around fifteen heavy manuscripts, the PR manager for a major publishing house can download this season’s new releases onto their Kindle instead.  Even for the average consumer, they’re kinda cool.  I mean, at least they’re solely used for reading, have e-ink technology, and aren’t iPad abominations.

But…I don’t know.  This is what got me thinking yesterday, as I was mulling over how to respond to my Twitter friend.  I mean, the good parts aside, I could never own a Kindle.  Most of my reasons are personal, and can find their roots in any bibliophile’s beliefs:  I love books too much.  And by books, I mean the physical objects.  The thing that sits on your shelf, and you buy from a bookstore.  I love the romanticism of books.  I love going to the library, and browsing bookstores.  I love the way it feels to turn a page while you’re reading.  I’m sorry techno-geeks, nothing can replace that for me.  No amount of convenience, endless storage space, and “coolness” can convince me otherwise.   I know technology has become a bigger part of our lives these past 10 years, and I’m not opposed to that.  Neither am I opposed to “green” technologies, especially if they have the potential to solve our waste problem.  But the “book”, as a piece of technology in and of itself, has not changed for hundreds—maybe a thousand—years.   Do I really believe infantile e-readers can take them down?  Of course not.

But again, these are all personal reasons, and I don’t expect anyone but the most ardent bibliophiles to understand.  I do, however, find major fault with the main excuse of Kindle-converts:  “I bought it because it will help me read more.”

No, Kindles won’t help you read more

*Sigh of exasperation*  OK.  Everyone wants to “read more.”  How much we read is, for some, a sign of one’s intelligence.  It’s a sign of how cultured, and in-tune with the world, we are.  Most people bemoan the fact that they “don’t have time to read,” and put that on their list of New Year’s resolutions.

But I’m sorry people, but buying a Kindle isn’t going to solve this problem.  Because how does owning a Kindle make “reading” any easier?  The only thing it does, as a matter of fact, is allow you to purchase books instantly.  You simply go online, hit download, and you’re ready to read.

But that’s it.  Skipping the drive to the bookstore will NOT help you read more because once you’ve bought the book, you still face the biggest challenge:  reading the damn thing.  And reading—whether you’re reading off a screen or the page—takes time.  And the reason most people do not read books as much as they want, is because they don’t want to spend the time necessary to read them.  Any serious reader (book blogger, reviewer, English professor) will tell you that the ability to read five books a week stems not from what you’re reading, but how.  It involves making reading a priority.

Thus, owning a Kindle does nothing to solves this problem.  If one truly wants to increase the number of books they read a year, they will do so regardless of whether they shell out $200 for a Kindle, or they stick with dead trees.  This is because reading involves motivating yourself to take time out of your day, sit down, shut up and read.  Owning a Kindle isn’t going to change anything.  Oh sure, the excitement of owning a new gadget may spur you to new heights of readership…initially.  But then, like any gadget, you’ll get bored and fall back into your old reading routines.

Isn’t reading free?

But even this isn’t my biggest problem with e-readers.  No, my opposition is more philosophical than anything else.  Philosophical in that it comes down to one of our core freedoms as educated human beings: the right to read.

I won’t go too deep here, but I think it’s safe to say “reading” is a fundamental right.  Maybe not in the Constitutional-sense, but reading gives you the ability to think for yourself, make educated decisions, and advance through life.  It is why literacy remains a top priority in schools, why those who can’t read are considered childlike, and why non-literate cultures are seen as barbaric. I don’t have the anthropological or educational chops to defend myself, but there it is: reading is important.  For some it may be a privilege, but once you learn, it’s very difficult to “unlearn,” and the skill can’t be taken away by force or coercion.

Why then, would anyone think to pay for the privilege of reading?  Of course, we must pay for the books we read.  These are copyrighted items and when we go to the bookstore, we pay for the privilege of owning a copy of a book.  Of course, if you’re really concerned about money, your local library will lend you any book…for free.  But since you can’t borrow books on the Kindle yet, let’s assume your average Kindle user buys books on a regular basis.

But (forgive my pun) the buck should stop there.  Once you purchase a book, all that’s left is to read it.  By opening the spine to the first page and looking down, you begin reading.  This always has been, and should be, free.   I mean, after you buy the book, can you imagine approaching another cashier and handing over $20; “Oh, this is so I can begin reading.”

But that’s what we’re doing when we buy a Kindle, or any other e-reader.  Of course we’re not paying a “reading fee” for every book we buy, but we are paying Amazon a hefty price just so we can read on their electronic devices.  The device doesn’t do anything besides create electronic images of book pages (it’s not a computer, hell it’s not even an iPad).  The only thing you can do with it is read.  And so, besides the $5o that goes toward the memory chips and other materials, you’re paying someone so that you can read.  You’re paying someone, for something you can do for absolutely free.

God, it’s the bottled water debate all over again:  would you pay $5 for a bottle of tap water, or turn on the faucet and pour a glass for free?  It just…doesn’t make any sense!  It’s stupid.  For me, this goes against so many philosophical and ethical notions of right/wrong, it makes my head spin.

I just wish that people would admit the real reason they buy Kindles:  it makes you look cool.  It’s the “next big thing.”  You like having electronic toys.  Maybe you need it for work, but I have a hard time believing any other excuses.  Thus, why I would never—ever—consider buying a Kindle or any other e-reader.  I’m not saying that as a former bookseller (although the survival of physical books is key to that profession); I’m saying it as a serious bibliophile, and a serious reader.  Trust me people:  if reading is your goal, Kindles are useless.


3 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Kindle; or, what I think about e-readers

  1. I completely agree about the Kindle and iPad. Although the Kindle has a screen that you can still see in the sunlight, it’s completely useless. Technology changes so fast that the books you spent $9.99 on today, won’t work in a week when you finally get around to reading them! Why not just go a buy the freaking book? You can read it whenever you want, you probably won’t pay the same for the text on the screen, but you’ll have it longer. (And you’ll have the lovely book smell, too.) Who needs to know how far through the book you are? 56%? Cool story. It just makes it harder to sit down and actually read, because you’re so focused on how far you are.

  2. Pingback: Sunday Salon: August 1, 2010 « Paperback Fool

  3. Pingback: At getting mad at your local library | Paperback Fool

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s