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?
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.
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.