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Device can't hold a Kindle to real books


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POSTED: Monday, March 09, 2009

For some, the Kindle “;wireless book reader”; is a miracle device that fuses the peaceful and even solemn tradition of consuming actual literature with the whiz-bang-wow of 21st-century “;electronic paper.”;

For others, it's as ridiculous as a WiFi-enabled Pet Rock.

In its latest incarnation, available on Amazon.com, the $359 Kindle has longer battery life, faster screen refreshes and memory to hold 1,500 books.

I tried one and it has its allure. Thanks to its speedy wireless network, I could spontaneously download whatever some author was hawking on “;The Daily Show”; faster than Jon Stewart could make fun of the poor guy's tie.

Also, unlike backlit computers and smart phones, the Kindle's screen mimics paper, relying on reflected light that's easier on the eyes chapter after chapter. However, the technology is still in its infancy. Even in large type, it looks less like ink on paper and more like someone typed a manuscript into a smooth swath of volcanic ash.

Another drawback: $359 is a lot to pay for the privilege of reading. The last time I did that, it was for required texts in my Media Economics 520 class, an irony that still carries a significant emotional scar.

Slightly mitigating the steep upfront price is the discount for most digital titles. Kindle books are about half the cost of their forest-forfeiting brethren.

Last week, I was busy condensing six boxes of closet junk into five when I came across my old paperback copy of “;Lord of the Flies.”; Not only is it one of my favorite books, it's my all-time favorite go-to metaphor—no matter the situation, whenever I say, “;Geesh, it's like 'Lord of the Flies' in there,”; it always seems to ring true on some level.

Regardless, I started to wonder what added value a Kindle edition of “;Flies”; would bring to the equation. It would have the same plot, setting, characters and man-against-man conflict. Yet somehow, as I held the non-Kindle version, I couldn't shake a newfound vague, empty feeling, until I finally figured out what it was missing: The ever-so-slight, remotest-of-remote chance of electrical shock.

The Kindle is simply too versatile for reading. The magic of books comes from their ability to transport you to different worlds, but typically it's just one world per physical object. For the Kindle, the absolute power of distraction distracts absolutely.

Even the most devoted bookworms will tell you that reading is an hours-long labor of love. Even if your son wrote the book, and it was about you, and it won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction and it paid for the house you're reading it in, you no doubt rolled your eyes at least a dozen times before eventually soldiering through it because you were in bed already and the remote was on top of the TV.

On a Kindle, however, you can flip from “;The Odyssey”; to “;Jeff Foxworthy's Redneck Dictionary III”; and everything in between (and believe me, everything else IS in between) in three clicks flat.

Fortunately, a new recipe for success is simple. Slash the next version of the Kindle to $9.99, rip out the WiFi and limit it to one book per device.

But keep the miniscule threat of electrocution. A dash of stress can actually focus the mind.

 

Subscribe to columnist Curt Brandao's Twitter feed at www.twitter.com/digitalslob.