Another Log on the Fire

Writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, Ezra Klein fusses over what the Amazon Kindle means for the future of reading. He’s not entirely sold on the device after carrying it around for a month:

Let me be clear: though the Kindle has some advantages over traditional books, for the moment, I’d stick with the low-tech option. The problem is that the Kindle tries to compete too directly with paper. It attempts to electronically mimic the experience of reading a book. But the book is very, very good at providing the experience of reading a book. In this way, the Kindle occasionally comes off as if Ford, failing to make the conceptual leap to the car, had instead built a motorized horse. Sure, there would be some advantages: the robo-steed would never grow tired, and could be outfitted with more plush seating. But horses are pretty good at being horses. And books, like horses, have evolved to maximize their advantages.

Largely, though, he’s enthused about what the digital book means for readers. (CJR’s Web site has a video of him discussing the story.) To overgeneralize his point, the Kindle (or at least digital text) makes text flexible—more free to be amended, corrected, and discussed. Fair enough, but I think Klein’s piece missed the target. There’s a hint of the straw man in his thesis: He wrestles with the question of whether the Kindle will spell the death of the book, but no sensible person is making that argument. Oddly, though, Klein never really gets at the main problem with the Kindle—the impermanence of the device itself. “If you drop it in the bathtub, you’re out $400,” he notes. But it’s deeper than that, because you need not drop the Kindle in the bathtub to have an obsolete device. Just wait five years, where it’ll take the place of all the tech devices you had five years ago and no longer use; your first-gen iPod, your iMac, your PDA. (Yes, I’ve ranted about this before, but I’m always game to bring it up again.)

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