March 11, 2009

Joking On The Square

With the Kindle 2 now released, discussion about whether old technology can survive has resurfaced. Now, I'm not saying everyone has to go out and buy a Kindle. Personally, I don't think the technology is where I'd like it to be before I take the plunge (I'd like to see it get cheaper and with a color screen that can display pictures). In these types of debates, however, you see a lot of personal preference or opinion passed off as an intrinsic property of the subjects of the debate. Plenty of people make arguments about the pleasurable qualities of holding a book, when really that's just their preference because it's what they're used to.

The thing that irks the shit out of me, however, is when people try to argue that books would be considered great or even superior technology if they were introduced after digital products. It's not just Penny Arcade, I've seen this all over TV and the internet, always made by people who love paper based books and who are usually older. I know that mostly it's played as a joke, as it is in PA, but Al Franken had an apropos phrase in one of his books that he used to describe the way conservatives get away with saying some of the ridiculous things they say. He said that they were "joking on the square," by which he meant that they were phrasing their statement as a joke, and they may even think it's funny, but that they also believe that there's a grain of truth in there as well. You also get this a lot, and it annoys me just as much, on any cold day. Somene says, "Boy, I thought we were supposed to be getting into global warming or something, eh?" This person is almost always either a Republican, a global warming skeptic, or both. Of course, that's not how global warming works, and technology progression doesn't work such that books would be considered superior to digital media if they were introduced today.

13 comments:

sarah said...

I have a negative gut reaction to kindle. I can't really verbalize why either. I do think that one of the great things about books is their durability, which you will not get with digital tech. You won't want to read with kindle on a raft in the pool. you certainly won't want it (hot to touch on the bottom) on your lap at the beach when the sun is blazing down and there is sand everywhere. You can't throw it in a bag and let it bounce around. It is impractical on a subway or bus. I can go on. I can see the benefits, but the durabilty of paper simply trumps it to me. oh yeah - and i'm old fashioned.

Jason said...

I agree with Sarah. What kind of glare does this thing have? Can you read it outside?

I also just like having a book in my hands, it just feels right. Plus it is much easier to flip back and forth through the pages if I need to check something out. Books also don't need to be recharged and their batteries do not run out mid-page. I am also not a huge fan of reading off of a screen for long periods of time.

MosBen said...

Jay, you should really take a look at a Kindle or another device that utilizes e-paper. The Kindle 2 can supposedly run for up to two weeks before a recharge and the screen is surprisingly easy to read. And evidently the Kindle 2 flips pages 20% faster. It didn't look to me that the first one was especially slow at flipping pages, but there you go.

As far as "feels right," that's just habit. If you didn't read another book for the rest of your life and exclusively used digital pads, eventually they would just "feel right" too.

Sarah, you've got some good points. I don't know how hot a Kindle gets as you read it, if at all. You're right about water damage, though I imagine it's only a matter of time before somebody creates a water-proof version. And, of course, prices will come down as well. Still, books aren't exactly what I'd call "durable" in the strictest sense.

As to practicality for subway or bus, I don't get that at all. The Kindle is smaller and lighter than most books. People watch video on their iPods and other devices. Reading on a Kindle makes no less sense.

But ultimately this is a generational issue, and we're the transition generation. Most of us are used to reading on a computer screen by necessity, but there's still a contingent that, for whatever reason, never took too it as a preference. Eventually, and probably soon, we'll get a generation reared on texting, blogging, and yes, reading on a Kindle-like device. At that point "books just feel right" will be like "whatever happened to writing letters?!"

Drew said...

I really hate to say this (so, fortunately, I rarely ever have to), but MosBen is absolutely right. The Kindle, or something like it, is the future.

We're all very proud of our bookshelves and what they say about us. But just think about how much space we've all devoted to storage of books. It's nuts.

And no, books aren't durable, particularly paperbacks. A while ago, I lost an entire box of Doctor Who novels to flood damage, and it took me a year and lots and lots of money to replace them. If your Kindle gets fragged, you buy another Kindle. Even if you are obsessively careful with them, as I am, sooner or later the binding gives out on you and the pages start to fall out. A paperback book can only be read so many times before it just falls apart in your hands.

sarah said...

I'm still not convinced.

MosBen said...

That's the beauty of the future Sarah. You don't have to be convinced that the future of media is "right" or "better." It's simply a reality that eventually digital will become the primary method of reading because it has many advantages and it's few disadvantages will be minimized as the technology improves.

MosBen said...

That is to say, you'll either come around to digital reading or you'll become a crotchety old person complaining that "I really miss the pops and hisses from the LPs. CDs are all flummery!"

Drew said...

Get off my lawn!!!

Royce said...

The price need to come down for me to consider buying this, and I'd have to check it out more. I KNOW books work and work well and they are cheap. If I lose one It sucks, but not as bad as if I lost a kindle.

Chock me up to interested.

MosBen said...

After reading your post, Royce, I was fully intending to come in here and agree completely that Kindle-like devices need to come down significantly. Then I remembered that iPods were right in that neighborhood price-wise when they took off as the thing to get. Now sure, they've gotten cheaper since then, but we're still talking about an expensive piece of electronics that could be damaged by all the same things that could damage a Kindle but that people still buy in large quantities anyway.

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