Disruptive technologies

You may remember that I almost bought an iLiad last year. I had been after an e-reader for quite a while but the available product was just not good enough to purchase. The release of the Kindle 2 re-awakened my digital lust earlier this year.

Today, my Google Reader presented *drum roll* Amazon’s Reader Comes to Australia  and, the exchange rate being excellent, I immediately pre-ordered my copy, after checking the wireless coverage on offer.

Why do I want one of these devices, or yet another disruptive technology? It is a very good question and there are a number of reasons but before the self-justification, an anecdote.


Once a Reader

When in primary school, I have sketchy memories of a short story I wrote, about a box, a black box, that you could ask anything of and it would produce, genie-like, the request. Mostly, I asked it for the answers to questions and for books and songs. Considering the access, in the small country towns I lived to books, music and popular culture, it is hardly any wonder my imagination devised such a device. There was the small issue of money too. The Kindle seems like a further extension on this childhood idyll, the internet, iPods and iPhones having made good on the dream, quite a while ago now.

Since second class, I have visited a library and bookshop every week of my life. Reading into the early hours of the morning was just what I did. We spent several of my formative years without a television, so there wasn’t a huge amount of choice. One commercial channel that started at 11 am with ‘Thought for the Day’ and the ABC, ‘tele’ just wasn’t that great. Actually, there wasn’t a huge amount of choice in the libraries either. Not compared to when I moved to cities.

When I lived in London for a couple of years, one of the first things I did, was join the library system. There was so much more on offer in the book and secondhand stores too. Such choice. I have loved visiting libraries, as well as bookshops, in every country I travelled, it has always been a highlight – and a necessity.

This will seem harsh, or maybe sad and crassly expressed but ‘how much’ can one ‘get from people’ (especially in the early hours of the morning pre-internet)? How much does the average person you meet know about literature, history, art, philosophy and all that, or how able are they to ‘spin a yarn’, the sort that can be enclosed in the covers of a book?

Books, or at least the knowledge and ideas they contain, have been the most constant thing in my life, from 7 to 41.

Okay, maybe it is true that basically, I want a Kindle ’cause I like tech toys. However, I would argue the more primal urge is to be able to access knowledge and ideas, like I’ve always needed to do, now, sometimes in 60 seconds, anywhere, anytime.

How can one not want that?


I still take my kids to the library and our local Angus & Robertson, was there today but don’t seem to visit bookstores as much any more, for a number of reasons, as I no longer live in a city and the internet permits me to the buy them online, usually from Abbey’s. I do wonder what it will mean for this, and other Australian book stores.

I hope that, when Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says of the Kindle, “It’s basically to start a fire,” that no-one is too badly burnt and I have some questions and concerns. What about Australian authors, publishers and distributors? How will our culture, more than their profits, be affected? What does it mean for our culture industries?

We talked a little about this on twitter. Penni Russon, who is @eglantinescake tweeted:

eglantinescake @Darcy1968 less focus on making deals with local mobile operators and more negotiation with local publishers and booksellers in reply to Darcy1968

I couldn’t agree more.

I wonder what will be in the traditional, print based media in the coming weeks, and chatted about on radio? How will  the debate be framed?


A New Age of Anxiety

Around about the same time that news of the Kindle’s iminent release arrived via Google Reader an excellent article appeared. A new age of anxiety. I quote, what seems to me to be an accurate and positive analysis of the future of ‘books’:

According to some futurists, the book is dead, or at least dying. Only it isn’t. In what is supposed to be an era of simplistic sound bites, books still possess intellectual authority and substance. Moreover, the genre of ‘idea books’ is doing especially well at the movement. Why could this be? One reason might be that individual democracy means that more people now have a direct stake in the future. But I don’t think that’s it. Another reason could be near universal literacy. But I don’t think that’s it either. No, I think the reason that idea books are doing so well at the moment is because globalisation and connectivity have created a world that is a noisy and confusing mess. Serious times spawn serious books. Historically, meaning might have come from a common culture or a national purpose. But the decline of deference means that people are now looking elsewhere for compelling stories about what is going on or where we might be heading. Ultimately, people want to make sense of their lives and be given some reassurance that what they are doing has some meaning.

Agree? I am convinced this analysis is correct.


In Conclusion

I remember being in fan clubs and waiting for zines to arrive, and books ordered from the UK when I was a kid. Sometimes it took 6 months. One could argue that there was wonderful sense of delayed gratification when they arrived – I wrote a letter with a postal money order and finally it is here – but really, that was cold comfort.

I’d much prefer a Kindle and the internet.


*There is extensive technical and other detail about the Kindle here, if you are so inclined.



    • jennylu

    • 15 years ago

    Lovely post Darcy. Your memories of bookshops and libraries in your youth echo mine. I worked in an old fashioned bookshop from the age of 15 through to 22. I loved the fact that I could take the books home, read them, and provided the spine wasn’t too bent, return them to the shelves. Now I’m a Teacher-Librarian! Like I said in my tweet to you, i’m eagerly awaiting the possible arrival of the Mac Tablet. I think Apple will corner the market using their iTunes library as their e-library. Latest rumour here: http://mashable.com/2009/10/07/apple-tablet-q1-2010/

  1. You know you’ll have to write a comprehensive Australian review article once you get your Kindle…

  2. I love books and have been captured by the wonder of e-books. I have researched the Kindle and Iliad, but haven’t made the jump. I liked the concept of your short story. My own desire for a portable “book” was started by the Star Trek Voyager TV series where they carry and read “data pads”. I tried to read Pride & Prejudice on an Ipod but got sick of scrolling all the time.
    I started reading (on paper) A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel and he talks about the move from scrolls to turning pages. Very interesting stuff, guess we’ve gone back with the advent of books on webpages.
    I am interested to know how your e-reader goes. I do feel conflicted though – i like the feel of books (and the smell – i’m weird like that) but like the fact that i could carry many books around on one device, particularly books that i get in e-book form from Project Gutenberg.
    As it is with one little boy and another child on the way, i don’t get much time to read anyway. Most of my “reading” is done by listening to audio books in the car to and from work!

  3. Ironically, it was my recent trip to Australia that inspired me to buy a Kindle. I was able to walk on a plane, and knowing I need to “entertain” myself over 33 hours of travel – carried only an iPhone & a Kindle. Now, I loaded up on Kindle books before I started my trip, but it was so wonderful to switch books based on my mood without having to get into my carry-on.
    The best part about having it now that I’m back home – its is easier to read in bed than any book I’ve ever had – and is so light. After propping up Harry Potter books over the years – this is a substantial improvement 🙂

    Enjoy your Kindle – it is not a one size fits all, but a one size fits most!

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