Wednesday, November 21, 2007

vt 2 a: to stir up : AROUSE (~ interest) b : to bring into being : START

I first read about the Kindle on another blog that I visit daily. I am intrigued by it because I wonder when (as I'm now sure Jeff Bezos does) book readers will finally threaten wood and paper books for delivery mechanism of choice. As these things go, it seems like the Kindle has the best shot of any to be the warning shot that something new is coming. But will it usher in a new future for reading?

I am sure that some people want to say that this new device will captivate new readers and encouraging reading in this modern world of television and video. I'm not sure about that. I do wonder if it will do for book buying what the iPod has done for music purchasing--i.e. make it easier to do for those already inclined to do so. For example, I would not characterize myself as a audiophile. I don't search out obscure bands, argue with people about which band is better than the next, troll through reviews of bands. I just know What I Like and occasionally see if this new thing also fits What I Like. Since I've had the iPod, deciding to buy What I Like has become much easier and so, I do it more often.

That's what I think a device like the Kindle can do. It is intelligently designed, making it simple enough for anyone to operate as a basic reading device. And it is connected to Amazon's ever-growing catalog of books. So, people that like to read already may find it simpler to purchase that book they read about. But will it make people WANT to read who aren't already wanting to read? I doubt that. Let's face it, the wood and paper book is a pretty simple device. If you don't like that experience, will the digital version of it seem more palatable?

Newsweek has a big cover story about the importance of the device. The article is full of sociological blather about what the book has meant historically and whether a new digital age will radically change things. I laugh at Amazon's attempt to assuage Luddite fears by designing it so that "in sleep mode the Kindle displays retro images of ancient texts, early printing presses and beloved authors like Emily Dickinson and Jane Austen." Will that sort of thing really work? Would enough people even recognize their faces to be soothed?

I'm more concerned about the possibility of digital books shuttering the library buildings that serve as more than a warehouse of books but as a community gathering place. What will happen to the underclass that can't afford $300 for the privilege? Already record stores can't survive the iTunes revolution. Will libraries fail as well? Does Bezos care about that? Would anyone ask him?

At least for the moment, the Amazon home page has a letter from CEO Jeff Bezos describing how important/wonderful he thinks the Kindle is. I wish he'd better explain why he chose the name. As I (and the Newsweek article) have already indicated, the name is to evoke Prometheus. But, as I did my definitional research, using an old fashioned dictionary, by the way, I found an alternative definition of kindle that might suit Bezos just fine--"vt : BEAR -- esp. of a rabbit ~ vi : to bring forth young--used esp. of a rabbit."

Happy shopping.

1 comment:

David said...

One of my initial criticisms of the Kindle design is that the screen is monochromatic. I want to say that this won't work today.

But, as Bezos would point out, the original iPod also had a black and white screen.