Amazon.com just released a new e-book reader called the Kindle. The name seems to try and invoke emotions of warmth and coziness, but don't let that disarm suspicion. It is a device more tethered to Amazon than any iPod is to Apple, and I don't think that is a good thing.
Monday, November 19, 2007
An electronic e-book reader is a great idea in many ways. Firstly it does not require paper, a good thing for the environment, especially if this little plastic device can last longer than an iPod. Secondly, it could rekindle the flagging newspaper business, offering a new revenue outlet for the struggling newsmen by jiving with the tech savvy sensibilities of the 21st century crowd. Lastly, from what I can tell, the Kindle is damn convenient. It is completely wireless, allowing you to browse the amazon bookstore wherever you are and download a book, magazine, or blog for a reasonable price in about a minute.
There is a downside to the modern book. People used to go to the theatre, now they sit alone in a home theatre. Music used to be exclusively heard in a social space, now we are walled in by tiny white earbuds. Reading used to involve going to bookstores to touch and feel your way towards your next read. A book used to be shareable; it could be borrowed by friends and enjoyed alike.
The Kindle is mediated by Amazon.com. The books are proprietary and fleetingly digital. Call me a luddite, but I am somewhat uncomfortable with the specter of Amazons new product. The most unnerving thing about it is its insularity. By being exclusively chained to Amazon to do anything, a Kindle owner is forced to surrender to the will of Amazon, unless he/she would like to see their $400 device sit lifeless. I know there is nothing sinister going on here, Amazon just wants to make money. But do we really want to find ourselves once again as the cash cow, especially when we have no other choice but to buy from one company?
The next part is a rant:
The Kindle is just one more example of how those who wish to make a buck have successfully gained the upper hand in the battle for our minds. Ok, sure, that sounds a little hyperbolic, but hear me out.
We are at a point in human history where it has become both exceedingly easy and very difficult to make people internalize ideas, values, and beliefs. At the same time we have both a plethora of information and resources to educate ourselves with as well as giant institutions that work every day to have us think and behave in certain ways so that we will consume their merchandise. A survey of society would probably tell us that the institutions are winning. They win by consolidating what we experience. The mass media has successfully done this.
The book is one of the last holdouts in this push towards consolidation. Sure, there are retailers like Wal-Mart that have done a great job controlling what books their customers may buy or see. When Wal-Mart is the only store in your community then you have been successfully monopolized and your thoughts and actions are well on their way to being consolidated for profit. But by and large the book is still a free thing. Free to be loaned and borrowed, free to be found or discarded. Amazon is seeking to change this, not with malevolent intentions, but, as I said before, to make money.
I am not sure how this will turn out. Eventually the e-book will be a reality; it is only a matter of time. The question is how that will happen. Will our reading be mediated, or will we have free reign? Time will tell, but for now I am staying away from the Kindle.