I will be the first to admit that I do not embrace new technology willingly.  A colleague of mine recently described me as someone who "talks like [he] is from this century, but uses gadgets like [he] is from the 16th century."  And yes, perhaps I was a little too harsh on my good friend, the Microsoft Surface.  I did venture to a bar that housed the machines, and yes, I enjoyed aimlessly flicking virtual bubbles around while making idle small talk.  Ah, the future.

I preface this post with this admission because I am about to ‘go 20th century' on another product, the Amazon Kindle.

Released in November 2007, the Kindle rapidly sold out in less than six hours.  Ever since that time, Amazon has apologized in press releases on numerous occasions for the lack of the product.  When Amazon cannot keep an Amazon-made product in stock, there's a serious shortage.

I barely took notice of the device when it first appeared in advertisements and through word-of-mouth.  Why?  Well, there have not been a lot of successful e-readers; in fact, the list of e-readers on Wikipedia reads like an extended obituary column.  Simply put, why would people pay for a piece of specialized hardware, when a less specific-function item like a PDA or a laptop will do most of the same work?  The answer is: they would not, and this is why e-readers have not thrived.

The Kindle is paving the way for a new world, a world where many use e-readers.


Admittedly, I am impressed with the vast array of titles and content that the Kindle Store on Amazon has to offer.  The majority of the NY Times' Bestsellers, the top newspapers and magazines, and many popular blogs are available as downloadable content.  The Kindle's internal memory can hold up to 200 non-illustrated titles, and users can even send Kindle content as a gift.  They are obviously setting this thing up to be the iTunes giftcard of 2008.

Amazon also makes it easy to self-publish your own work; a little too easy, if you ask me.  As one user describes his experience in detail here, you can discern just how much power this device gives to the common man.  Personally, I don't want the common man to have too much power.  While the publishing process for a novel is sure to have a lot of red tape, there is also a certain thrill associated with someone thinking that your writing skills are valuable and marketable enough to be published to the masses.  On the other hand, perhaps it will ‘all come out in the wash' as people download content to their Kindles.  After all, how many useless and contrived blogs and websites are in existence?  I can avoid bad Kindle products just as easily as I avoid those URLs and free singles on iTunes.

After getting my hands on one of the devices, I made a list of my main grievances:

  • It's expensive: At $400 for the e-reader and then additional amounts for actual content, I could just as easily purchase lots of books, magazines, and then read blogs online.
  • It's small: While some content is available in large print, no one can deny that reading something on paper is still quite easier than on a small electronic screen.
  • It's big: Good luck trying to fit this in your pocket.
  • It's a thief's dream: Just like iPods and cell phones, the Kindle has "steal me" stamped on it in big red letters.  I also feel like someone would be way more likely to leave a Kindle lying around, just like his or her favorite novella.
  • It's superfluous: Why can't I just read my blogs and online magazines on my laptop again?

I think that my feelings on the Kindle can best be summarized with a quote from Ezra Klein:

"The problem is that the Kindle tries to compete too directly with paper. It attempts to electronically mimic the experience of reading a book. But the book is very, very good at providing the experience of reading a book. In this way, the Kindle occasionally comes off as if Ford, failing to make the conceptual leap to the car, had instead built a motorized horse."