First Impressions of the Kindle ~ the good, the bad and the downright ugly

 

First impressions of the Kindle ~ the good, the bad and the downright ugly!

   I’ve held off from the commitment to an e-reader for a number of reasons. Sitting on the sidelines, listening to the debates about whether the advent of the e-reader would mean the death of print, I’ve sat firmly on the fence and watched as the battle raged and wondered what the fuss was about. I’ve heard people praise their personal e-reader to the high heavens, I’ve heard some bewail the intrusion of yet more technology into their lives. And I remained sceptical and unsure. The more I read about the e-readers, the more I became convinced that the technology was still too intermediate to satisfy my own complex requirements.

So why, when my father asked what I’d like for my birthday did I put a Kindle on the list?

   Simple answer? Convenience.

   I travel quite a lot for both my jobs and on a five day trip, I will often have time on my hands between activities, where I am just sitting waiting for groups to return. I’ll have time at night to unwind in my hotel room. Now, for me this presents a problem. I read extremely fast. I might be able to consume an average length novel in a few hours. This means that for a five day trip I need to pack at least two, probably three books. And in addition to that, I can be moody and find a book boring that I thought I wanted to read. When you’re living out of a suitcase, you can’t afford to carry spares. So the idea of having a complete library in an item smaller than a paper back is very attractive.

   This Saturday, I squealed with delight on opening my parent’s present. There was the mythical Kindle to be explored. I downloaded a lot of classics and a few modern novels, plus some phrase books and so on and played around a bit. After a few days, I can report my findings.

 

Things I like: 1) the neat appearance 2) the light weight 3) the capacity for thousands of books. 4) the relative simplicity of use. 5) the internet access that also means you can have a book delivered instantly 6) the no-glare screen.

 

Things I don’t like: 1) the screen is too small. I’m a fast reader, and the small screen is off-putting because I like to be able to see both pages spread out. It feels like peering through a letterbox. 2) the judder as you change pages; it makes me think I’m getting a migraine. 3) the fact that it is an electronic device and yet is resolutely black and white 4) the experimental music facility only plays mp3 files and has no menu for contents so you have to play things in the order loaded and move them on. 5) the internet is slow and is in black and white; it makes me feel depressed when I am used to colour. 6) there is no option for back-lighting, which means you can’t read in the dark without a separate light; I know this was found to drain the battery quickly but it would be an option I’d find good. 7) the keyboard is so tiny that it’s hard to type.

 

   I was disappointed especially in the music feature as I had hoped to use that instead of an mp3 player, but the hassle of converting all my music files to mp3 is simply not worth it. I think part of me is looking for a single gadget to minimise the amount of stuff I carry; I had intended to wait until there was a write facility included so I could use it when away to work on stories , but that seems unlikely now. I shall have to continue to take my net-book on longer trips for that, as well as get a new mp3 player as my old one is not staying charged long enough.

 

   Another concern over e-readers is one that applies to all the gadgets we deem essential now, from mobile phones to laptops: instant obsolescence. I tend to keep a device until it actually stops working but most people change their mobile phone or pc as soon as a new model comes up. What happens to all these electronic gadgets when we’ve finished with them? Some can be recycled but most end up being dumped. When it comes to the end of life for a traditional book, the final resting place is seldom final. Books rot and they burn and they can also be pulped to make more paper or card. The fact that all e-readers whether Kindles or Nooks or whatever are intermediate technology means that there is going to be an ever increasing pile of obsolete ones to add to the mountain of discarded technology.

   The last and most nebulous of my objections to e-readers is the clinical and non-sensual aspect. They hold nothing of the organic world in the way that a paper book does; the folded down ends, the finger marks, the scent of paper and leather, the personal ephemeral memories like a four leafed clover from a summer meadow. I found a book for my daughter from my university days a few weeks back; the margins were littered with my pencilled in notes and comments and indeed those of the person who owned my book before me. While the Kindle allows you to annotate and highlight and indeed, see which parts of a book others have done that to, there is a coldness about this that for me at least would not bring back the memories my scribbling in a Latin poem did. Reading my notes, I was instantly back in a lecture theatre and could picture who I was sitting with and even feel for a second my ancient and decrepit old jeans that were disintegrating around me. The Kindle is too clean for that sort of memory to stick.

The e-reader is a boon for book-lovers and for authors but it is not going to totally replace the traditional book. The two are far from being mutually incompatible, and I intend to buy books I have enjoyed in either medium. Whatever means a book is delivered by does not change the book in its essence but may alter the experience of reading it.

Once more, horses for courses. You pays your money and you takes your choice.