Monday, March 2, 2009

Why I Bought A Kindle

As the market falls below 7,000, to it's lowest point in 12 years, I find diversions of almost any kind welcome - especially diversions involving technology.

So I'm going to write a little about technology and specifically why I spent almost $500 on the new Kindle 2, a leather cover, a cool Mighty Bright reading light and 3 books I had whispernetted to the thing while it was still in transit.

As enamored as I am with technology, I'm not an easy mark. I don't accept or subscribe to never-ending technological developments just because they exist.

Technology that doesn't in some way enrich and improve my life, or lives in general, is of no value to me. Developing means to robotically kill opposing forces is evil. Developing means to robotically vacuum my carpet is good.

And technology has to be very user-friendly for me to adopt it. The days of my attempting to read hundreds of badly translated pages in a "User Manual" are long gone. I don't have the time, aptitude or advanced engineering degree to cope with that.

Remember the first versions of videocassette recorders - VCR's of the 1970's - and the subsequent VHS vs. Betamax formatting battle? My brother-in-law Dave could write a book about it as he was working on the leading edge of marketing those devices back in the day.

What they all had in common was an impossible-to-read operating manual. Badly translated from the original Japanese, Korean, Mandarin or what-have-you, by the time it reached your hands it was incomprehensible.

The inability to set those babies up to actually record has become part of popular lore.

Another major "advance" was audio cassette players for your car that required turning over the vehicle to 2-or 3 guys who looked like they just stole all the equipment they were about to install in your car - they had to cut holes for speakers, run wiring, stick the player in the dashboard and then turn it back to you so you could figure out how in the hell to operate it while driving 70-miles-per-hour on the freeway.

Or how about car phones? That was fun - especially when they didn't melt from the heat and sun or more likely, get stolen on a frequent basis.

I'm not a first adapter either. I really believe that someone else should be the guinea pig for Version 1.0 of anything. The only time I failed to adhere to that was with Vonage - I bought in as soon as it was introduced and it was a miserable failure from the get go. Every time it rained I lost phone service. I got rid of it fast. And I still have a land line - just in case I need to call 911 and have them actually know from where I'm calling.

I haven't jumped for HDTV (yet). I have a Dell desktop PC with a cable ISP - no cool Apple laptop - no WiFi. I do have a pair on noise-cancelling headphones because I don't want to lose anymore hearing than I already have. And I have an iPod 4GB Nano that's a couple of years old.

But in the last few years my love affair with new technology has really kicked-in. First it was the proliferation of on-line tools that made a neat connection between my personal and professional life - blogs, blogging, facebook, twitter, etc.

It just made sense to me to be able to express myself both personally and professionally through those forums. It has helped me enormously in keeping in touch in brand new ways with my friends and business colleagues. And it has provided me a means to reconnect with people I want in my life.

Then my applemaniac friends introduced me to the new iPhone 3G and the whole wide world of apps.

I was smitten! So in love! Never saw anything like it. The iPhone offered me compatibility, portability and connectivity that I didn't have. And in such a small, sexy package to boot.

The iPhone actually enriched my life. It made communication possible on a whole different plane. It also made it possible to have fun on a whole different plane. How else can you flick bowl in the palm of your hand?

One of the first things I did after putting my favorite music on iPhone and hooking-up my personal & work e-mail, and getting all those must-have apps, was to download audiobooks and e-reader to my iPhone.

Once again, it was the seductiveness of portability and convenience that drove me in this direction.

I live in Brooklyn and I commute via the subway to work. On weekdays the "F" train is frequently overcrowded and finding a handhold while simultaneously holding a 300-page book and turning pages in nigh impossible. As is actually finding a seat during prime commuting times. And after years of hauling heavy books around in my messenger bag I was beginning to feel like a pack mule - plus my shoulders would ache by the end of the day.

So I started to listen to audiobooks with my noise-canceling headphones while riding the subway. The very first one I listened to was Camus' The Stranger narrated by acclaimed
voice actor Jonathan Davis. The experience was transformative. I had forgotten how much I missed having someone read to me. It was heaven, and I was forever hooked on the experience.

About this same time I was also downloading free e-reader apps on the iPhone. Mostly "classics" such as Moby Dick, Paradise Lost, The Time Machine, etc. You can change the font color and size, and the background "paper" color. You can "turn" pages with just a flick of your finger across the screen and the sound made is actually that of a page being turned! Very cool and very readable - and again, all in the palm of your hand. I also downloaded books from - they allow you to scroll the pages to your reading speed. That's pretty amazing! I have Benjamin Button, a biography of Lincoln and a couple of Sherlock Holmes tomes in this format.

I'm thrilled with this new reading freedom. And not having to lug books around anymore during my daily commute is wonderful.

Now don't get me wrong. I love "real" books. But I live in a typical NYC apartment - meaning I have finite space limitations to deal with. Right now I have numerous places to display and stash books - bookshelves, under tables, on tables, in little niches, books on top of books, etc. I find it hard to part with my books, so I keep them around. But I'm running out of room.

So it wasn't much of a jump for me to look to Amazon and their launch of Kindle 2.0.

I didn't pay much attention to the first Kindle - it was clunky looking, had some issues that needed to be dealt with and just didn't make an impression on me.

Bur when I started to read about the new Kindle 2, saw pictures and read critical reviews, I was sold.

Based on a heads-up article written in the NYTimes, I ordered a Kindle before the new one was announced. The article assured me that I would receive a new one and not the obsoleted version. And sure enough the e-mail from Amazon arrived telling me that I would be among the first to receive the new Kindle 2.

2 days after it was officially launched - I took receipt of it and have hardly put it to "sleep" since.

The one thing that describes the great technology available today is ease of operation - it's linear, coherent, and crystal clear. You can start using it almost out-of-the box.

That describes the Kindle 2 perfectly. I quick turn through the user guide and I was ready to go.

And, I ordered 3 books while it was on a UPS truck and when I turned it on all 3 books were already downloaded and ready to read.

The Kindle pages remind me of newsprint and the size of the page reminds me of a paperback - so there's absolutely no disconnect for me re a real reading experience. And the page turns are super fast.

I love it. And once again I feel I have engaged a new technology that will help enrich my life.

And nothing can compete with it's convenience and effectiveness.

I do not believe that Kindle and e-readers will replace books - I believe it is but another tool to aid the reader in accessing books and authors in the formats that make the most sense for the readers lifestyle. And if you commute by train and travel often like I do then having something like the Kindle makes a lot of sense.

Publishers need to stop whining about technology and find a way to participate. Old business models, circa early-to-mid 20th Century simply no longer work - whether it's book publishers or newspaper publishers.

Purist critique of technological advances seems pathetically rooted in a longing for a world that longer exists.

It's participate or perish. And everyone wins when everyone participates.