It’s clear that Amazon’s Kindle is at the forefront of something big. Maybe this particular device is not going to catch on with everybody, but it’s certainly an important foot in the door to rethinking how we interact with books. The combination of a fairly reasonable form factor, the use of electronic Ink (very easy on the eyes, even in bright sunlight, and not at all a battery hog), and – most important – the backing of the might Amazon, means that this device is getting quite a few people to sit up and take notice, in a way that didn’t happen two years ago with SONY’s ebook reader (when was the last time you bought a book from SONY?).

That said, I’m transfixed by the name. It seems almost an oxymoron for a company called “Amazon” to make a device called “Kindle”. Amazon’s name always gave me the warm fuzzies. Books are substantial, solid, old-fashioned, like the rainforest. Something we want to preserve so that the world can be a good place to live. The Amazon rainforest is a source of endless biodiversity, healthy atmosphere, medicinal treasures and ethnic traditions. I’ve always felt protective toward its bountiful presence, in somewhat the same way I’ve come to feel protective toward books, with their rich history, textured beauty and rugged physicality, in this transient age of the internet.

But to kindle means to start a fire, to burn – not a concept you want to throw around lightly when you’re talking about books. To me book burning is the very bane of civilization, bringing to mind Nazi rallies, as well as movements in our own country to ban “The Catcher in the Rye”.

Is Amazon suggesting that these electronic readers will eventually lead to the disappearance of the physical book? Certainly that would be convenient for a company like Amazon. They are, after all, in the business of licensing intellectual property. Ultimately it is not so much a physical book that they are selling to each buyer, but rather a license to possess a single instance of an copyrighted work. If they can streamline that point of sale, reducing overhead and moving each transaction toward an ideal of pure profit, perhaps that would serve their larger interests.

So in a sense, perhaps we are witnessing the start of the biggest book burning in history. One day such phrases as “between the covers” and “a real page turner” may be as euphemistic as “telephone dialing” or “rewind” – alluding nostalgically back to a Victorian reality that is long gone.

Some day soon, alas, as we all pick up our electronic readers, we may once and for all close the book on books. As our children, and their children after them, run their fingers over magic screens to summon up “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”, “Jane Eyre” and “Ivanhoe”, they may catch the sadly bemused looks on the faces of their elders. Perhaps they will even ask us what’s wrong. But I suspect that we will never, try as we might, be able to convey to them just what has been lost.

6 thoughts on “Kindling”

  1. I guess you are right, our children and their children after them wont miss anything.

    But I always ask myself, can ‘digital content’ be your friend, like a book you have held in your hands a thousand times? I will miss the haptics, the smell, the way the letters / the characters are set (even in this digital times), the words the friend has written into it as he gave this book to you.
    I am sure our children will have other things to hold on.

    Books will be a nearly lost art, like hand written letters. I always try to imagine how one will go through emails twenty years later, or sms, or….How can I get back to an ebook, if just a few words from a text pop up in my mind twenty years later. It still seems a little bit ridiculous to me. 🙂

    On the other hand we do all this research on haptic interfaces and perhaps our ebooks will at times have the haptic like a old fashioned book, maybe made out of some stuff that at least feels like paper…

    And maybe amazon and Google might become a publishers. I don’t think that is scary, because I believe that their still will be enough small publishers, who will publish books that don’t exactly end up as a bestseller anyway.

  2. Perhaps kindling a relationship with Holden Caufield would help ease the pain of watching Catcher in the Rye burn in a bonfire. One of my favorite parts of that book was when he recalled being in his speach classes and the classmates would yell “digression” if you want off topic in your oratory. Made me think the entire book was a rambling digression. But, I digress… My real though is this…

    Did we go through the same sense of loss or nostalgia when we moved from oral traditions to written word? Can written word really convey the same dynamics, and personal influence as oral tradition? Do we really want our stories so mechanically reproduced?

    Let’s all go back to a time when you had to “write” in some form of rhythmic poetry enabling the story teller to better remember the story.

  3. Yes, let us go back to a time
    When all was rhythm, all was rhyme
    For in the past (so I have heard)
    ‘Twas all based on the spoken word
    And to remember what was said
    To keep the meaning in your head
    Random prose would never do
    You needed couplets, rhymed in two
    Yes let us go back to those days
    Embracing all their vocal ways
    Then we would never need to write
    To tell our tales of woe or might
          Besides, what’s said is more reliable
          Because it’s plausibly deniable

  4. I think that I shall never see,
    A poet speaking with his keys,
    He types and types so gleefully,
    for all to hear, if they can see

  5. Replace books with Kindle,
    or don’t if you please.
    As asked by Ted Geisel,
    Who’ll speak for the trees?

  6. Oh Andras, such horrified looks
    ‘Bout the volumes in library nooks
      At tree killing you balk
      But then if trees could talk
    We wouldn’t need all of these books!

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