A Kindled Spirit

Jason Fertig

Editor’s note: This article presents a counter opinion to the one David Clemens recently expressed on this site in “Inflammatory Books on Kindle? Reigniting the Written Word.” NAS also published another opinion piece on the Kindle when it first became popular in 2008.

A year ago, I never thought I’d write this essay.  No, I didn’t have some life-altering experience that changed my view of the world. I just did a full 180 on the Amazon Kindle and other eReaders and I’d like to tell my story. I may even convince some of you that these things are worth trying.  And no, I don’t get any commissions from Amazon (although with a honeymoon coming up, I could always use some more dough).

Like many traditional bookworms, I initially saw eReaders as an assault on the scared printed text – devices that will lead the internet generation further away from the joys of getting lost in a book.  After all, the darn things seem to present one paragraph at a time.  How long will it take to read de Tocqueville on such a device?

But then a funny thing happened.  I bought a Kindle and got hooked.

It was not an impulse buy, per se.  A co-worker of mine was constantly reading on her Kindle in our break room.  She swore by it to the point that she said that she digitized much of her library and cleared out some of the clutter that dust-collecting books took up in her home.  As someone who hates clutter, I was intrigued.  Yet, I couldn’t see myself chucking a large amount of my library.  Like many people, I have some books that I may never revisit, but I feel smarter just by seeing them on my bookshelf.  Without books in my home office, it would not have the aura of a productive space (although the Yankees and Giants pennants combined with the large USA flag provide other man cave decor). 

But, I was intrigued by the ability to carry several books with me at once and to be able to buy new ones in under a minute with just a few clicks.  As someone who reads multiple books at a time, anything that helps me avoid reliving the back-breaking-book-bag days of high school is worth considering.

After a little deliberation, combined with the realization that many of the classic texts that I never got to read were available free of charge, I decided to take the $139 plunge into Kindle v3 by purchasing it at the big red bull’s eye.  The price of the Kindle had come down a great deal since its initial release, and at the worst, I could always return it if the thing was that terrible.

A few days later, after sailing though my first Kindle-ized literary pursuit – The Stack and Tilt Golf Swing by Andy Bennet and Mike Plummer (golf junkies: I am stacked and a believer) – another funny thing happened, I actually liked reading on the device. 

Did it lack the two-page feel of print books? Yes. Was it strange to press the “>” button instead of turning a page? Yes. Did it lack the smell of a book?  Well, I guess it did.  But, in all honesty, after reading heavier stuff on the thing, I actually found it easier to “get into” what I was reading than I thought.

Admittedly, I probably have a little adult ADD.  Sometimes when I read, I find myself wondering if boiled or grilled hot dogs taste better. At times, I also tend to flip forward to find out how many pages are left in a chapter like an undergrad reading an Introduction to Psychology text.  Plus, while I read at home, my lovable cats tend to chomp at my books like they are dead mice. 

Alas, to my surprise, the Kindle actually helps me concentrate better. I’m not interested in presenting the science behind that assertion, but I can simply state that the lack of page numbers (it uses numeric “locators”) and the smaller amount of material presented at once actually helps me focus on what I am looking at in front of me.  I also bought a nice leather cover that gives my Kindle that open two-page book feel.  Additionally, once I got used to clicking to move forward, advancing through an eBook became normal. 

So I’m sold on the Kindle – the eReaders on the iPad and various smart phones are also a viable option for many individuals – but yes, I am still going to buy real books too.  There are certain books that are just more pleasurable in the physical form.  Plus, not all books are digitized at the moment.  Anyone who fears that eReaders will replace physical books need not lose any sleep.  Cameras in phones added the ability to snap quick photos, but they did not replace stand-alone cameras. Whether Kindle or hardcover, books are still being read, no matter how many trees are used to get the knowledge to the reader.  The “save the books” crowd has more to fear from mass consumption of webpages than from eReaders. 

Greater damage to reading ability is likely to occur from the shunning of book reading in favor of prolonged skimming of a great deal of pages on the net.  The designs of many sites are not conducive to long periods of concentration on a given article because those sites aim to keep a user navigating that given site for a period of time.  Thus, there is encouragement to click, click, and click some more.  Pick a favorite heavy traffic site and notice how it is likely filled with attention grabbing links that dot the margins and draw attention away from reading the main content of a page.  The links can create an urge to quickly get through the current page to click another intriguing link. Additionally, reading is not the only activity that is disrupted by page designs.  Many people are more readily able to eat one Lay’s potato chip than to watch one video on YouTube and leave the site (this one still never gets old as long as you hit mute). 

None of this page design issue is necessarily evil, it’s just eBusiness.  My point is to compare the convenience and benefits of reading on an eReader to the reading of a webpage that offers one-click options to the ADD inducing world of the web.  Those of us who know the lifelong benefits of book reading need to fight the encroachment of web reading on attention spans.  But in that battle, there is no need to fear the Kindle and its electronic cousins, for they are on our side. 

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