Sunday, October 30, 2011
The Kindle, Reconsidered. Reinvented. Ruined.
I've long sung the praises of the Kindle over at Amazon.com and on this blog site. I think it's an amazing invention, and it's reinvigorated a love of reading for an entire generation. My father got one in the spring of 2010, and by the end of that year I had one, as did both of my brothers and a niece. I have never heard anyone who owns a Kindle say anything remotely negative about it. To date I have downloaded more than 150 books, and receive The Nation on my Kindle every week.
This summer, I read a heartwarming article concerning the impact of e-books on middle school students. The gist of the article was how the e-book phenomenon was igniting a real love of reading in kids aged 11-14; these kids were excited about reading because they could download books themselves and carry their libraries around with them. It was so gratifying to read about kids in love with a device which actually helped them develop and expand their vocabularies, not to mention their imaginations.
However, the article ended on a bit of a sour note- it included a mention of coming "innovations" in e-book technology, including the inclusion of media, including streaming video. Suddenly a red flag came up, and I thought "Uh oh, here we go again....a useful piece of technology is about to go the way of the radio and the television and the telephone and pretty much every other invention which seems so promising and beneficial at first, and become dumbed down and more of a toy than a learning tool...."
A few months later, my worst fears have come to pass. Introducing the Kindle Fire, which yes, still offers downloadable e-books. But look, now it's in color. And now there's video to look at- because why should Kindles be just for people who like to read? In fact, it's hard to see how this new device is distinguishable from the I Pad or the hand-held television or a modern cell phone. Don't like to read? Well, no problem- watch shows and movies! Look at pretty pictures! The New Kindle- Because Kindles aren't just for the literate anymore!
Clearly, the owners of the Kindle brand were sick of being locked out of the massive dullard market which catered to Americans who simply will not be convinced that reading can be fun, and will only buy electronics that cater to their mouth-breathing, cotton-candy-for-brains need to have stimulation poured into their eyes and ears, no individual effort required. I guess I should have seen this coming when my students, after asking to look at my Kindle, kept attempting to turn pages by rubbing the screen, and then responded with contempt at the news that no, there are these buttons on the side you have to use. What? I can't do anything by just touching the screen? I have to push a BUTTON? Ugh, when is this thing going to get into the 21st century?
Well, now the Kindle IS in the 21st century. I suspect that in a few months, when I see people with Kindles at the gym and riding the subway, they'll be WATCHING, not reading. And kids who wanted a Kindle so that they could download books will now sneer at the old models and demand one with color graphics, a touchable screen, and video streaming capability. Oh, and it lets you download books, too? Um, that's nice. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to playing "Angry Birds."
We ALWAYS do this. The Film Industry once relied on charm and grace and good scripts to sell movies- now it just culls the archives of Marvel Comics or produces sequels, the ruder and more crass the better. Television was once bland and inoffensive at worst- today you are better off letting your kids play in traffic than be exposed to what passes as "entertainment" during what was once called the "family hour." E-books were once a way to access....well, books. Now they are just another example of electronic popcorn, with no nutritional value. Or will be, very soon.
Ah well, it was nice while it lasted. At least by this time next year, I won't have kids bugging me to look at my lame, no-graphics, no-color Kindle. I can't find it in my heart to thank you, though, Kindle. Because your product really didn't need improvement- and this is NOT an improvement.