I find myself talking about the Kindle more often. At this stage of the game, the conversations still always mine the idea Paper Vs. Electronics. I have heard, and offered open-minded considerations of this comparison. Although as one who resents the increasing time required to maintain an operating charge in the increasing number of devices which require it, who has spent unacceptable amounts of time and money rehabilitating damaged electronics, replacing stolen electronics (and taking extra measures to prevent further theft), downloading and installing new versions (at other times wishing I could download when some wrinkle between me and the internet is preventing it), who worries about the growing mountains of discarded electronics, I naturally enjoy the Neo-Luddite position in these conversations. Fanciers of coffee table books and cookbooks often join me, and I appreciate those perspectives as well.
Increasingly, however, this has felt like an exercise, like insincerity, and I have finally had opportunity and inclination to investigate that feeling. My conclusion? Debating paper versus electronic books is like debating roast turkey versus roast turducken. You can only take it so seriously. In a reductive mood, you start to hear it as “’but I love it as it is’…’yes, but this is MORE of it.” And you realize you are really debating whether or not more is automatically better. More books, and simultaneously more freedom from their physical burden.
Will you gain more physical space as you replace paper books with ones and zeroes in the clouds? Yes. You would also gain that space by reducing your furnishings to one bed. It could serve for sleeping and for sitting, and could seat several people for entertaining. But the number of people who actually need to reclaim the space taken by either their furniture or their books is much smaller than the number of people who argue that this is a benefit of e-readers.
Will you have access to more reading material in mobile or remote situations? Yes. How long is your commute? How brief is your attention span? How long are your vacations? How little do you have to fill your vacationing time? The number of people who have been inconvenienced by a bulky burden of reading material, even after including students, is much lower than the number of people who argue that this is a benefit of e-readers.
And yet these are the conversations we cordially entertain, without even a hint of the ridiculous. I, for one, am committed to greater Kindle-honesty in 2010, and I invite you to join me. Let us admit to its superfluous, gratuitous nature, and get on with some lively discourse on gadgetphilia or marketing or planned obsolescence.