Sunday, November 25, 2007

So, what about the Kindle?

by Barbara Greenstone

eReaders have been around for a while but I've mostly been ignoring them. I keep telling myself that, given a choice, I'd rather read from a printed page than from a screen. In my work, of course, I do read from a computer screen - whether it's emails, chats, web articles, blogs, NoteShare notebooks, or other digital documents. I seldom print anything. But when it comes to reading for pleasure, I'd rather sit down with a book. I've been a reader for more than half a century and why change now?

Having said that, I have to admit that Amazon's Kindle has me thinking... What is it I really love about books? Is it some kind of kinesthetic pleasure from holding it and turning the pages or is it purely the content? Do I prefer print books because it's really a better reading experience or is it a bias from years of habit?

If you walk into my house you will know right away that I am a book-lover. There are bookshelves everywhere. But I don't think of myself as a true bibliophile. I think true bibliophiles love the books themselves. They care whether it's a first edition. They care about the binding and the typeface and the quality of the paper. I don't care about any of these things. I do like seeing my books on the shelves but I'm not sure why. Maybe because scanning my eclectic collection gives some clues as to who I am, or who I have become over the years.

But now I'm thinking about that Kindle and thinking I might like to try it. David Pogue gives it a mostly favorable review in the NY Times and his is an opinion I have learned over the years to trust. I'm also thinking about whether eReaders like this have a future in education. I think many of our students do not have the same print prejudices that I have and might welcome an alternative to those heavy textbooks that fill up their backpacks.


Jim Burke said...

Your reflection on what it is about books that makes us love them resonates with me, Barbara. They are certainly old friends for us digital immigrants. For me there is something personal and reassuring with an old book I have on the shelf that is dog-earred and with coffee stains on it, recalling past experiences. An example would be my old beat-up Reader's Digest Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual that was my constant companion in the building of my home. How on earth could a clean, cold digital version of that book replace such a gem (although I suspect the Kindle? online has text and not illustrations anyway.

Or how could I replace Ernest Beckers' The Denial of Death, a book I have read many times, each time reviewing comments I had written in the margins in earlier years.

And no . . .Cullum's Aesop in the Afternoon, with the binding destroyed from constant use in the classroom over 32 years just wouldn't be the same in a digital device.

However . . . the Kindle sure offers some wonderful possiblities. I know that the $400 price tag includes connection fees . . . but with the books still being $10 each, I'm not sure it would end up being cost-effective yet for me run out and buy one. Suppose the price will get down to $200?

It does sound like an interesting alternative to hardcopy textbooks. Probably save a lot of back injuries from young people carrying around huge textbooks in backpacks.

Going to go read the Pogue review now. :) Thanks.

Martha Thibodeau said...

I have to agree with you Jim. If I had the $400 in spendable income, I would much rather get a video iPod or some such device.

Since I rarely buy a book until it comes out in paperback and is marked down besides that, it would take a long time to recoup the investment. However, I am finding my collection of audio books on the rise in direct proportion to the rise in my odometer.

Although the free wireless is enticing, I can usually pick up wireless wherever I am in Maine, thanks to the MLTI machines that I carry with me. So, that feature doesn't tip the scales. I'm not sure that much could replace that feeling of anticipation as I hold the page, ready to turn, in my right hand. I'd also feel guilty for having my cup of tea in my left hand, since I've always been told to keep liquids away from the computer. (Although, I bet the spilled tea would create a little havoc rather than just leaving a nicely dyed page.)

The biggest draw I see is college textbooks for $10 a piece. I have one in college now and another getting ready for the fall of 2009. $400 is one semester for one kid...hmmm. My kids haven't had enough time to build the loving relationship that I have with the printed page. They will read electronically as well as ...(what word should I use here?) the old fashioned way. Are there textbooks available? It may be worth it after all.