Monday, December 17, 2007

Reading In Traffic

My first reaction to the Kindle was the thought that it would eliminate the need for lighting in order to read. Since then I've been struck by how the various pro and con arguments about it really boil down to the difference between an artifact and a text delivery system. Of course, in time, the Kindle might very well become its own artifact in the same way the iPod has. Obviously, it will change the way people relate to the text that's being "delivered". But it will never replace a book, in the same way that an iPod can't replace a CD, and a CD can't replace vinyl, and vinyl couldn't replace live musicians.

The basic progression common to all these phenomena is the increasing independence of place and time, and a reduction in physical interaction with objects. Think of the movement and tactile interaction that went into putting a particular track from a particular record on the turntable, compared to cuing up some music in an mp3 player.

I'm almost certain to never use a Kindle, in the same way that I couldn't imagine listening to music through earphones on an mp3 player. A professional musician I just met put into words what I'd been thinking, namely that he preferred listening to the music of everyday life on the street, to say nothing of the safety issues of cutting oneself off from one's sonic surroundings.

But I still don't think it's valid to argue that the Kindle cheapens the text it displays or diminishes one's experience of it. It just changes both. Here in Paris, for instance, people actually read books while walking down the street. So what's a cheaper reading experience, reading a Kindle in a library, or the book version while navigating rush-hour traffic on a busy street?

Posted by Judah in:  Arts & Letters   

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