Oh man, is that new Kindle ever tempting! It looks like it's so much less awkward than its big brother, and so many of the things I worry about when it comes to the e-book format seem to have been addressed (at least if the video ad is to be believed): screen glare, battery that dies after three hours, too clunky, etc. Amazon has definitely improved on the original model.
So why am I not racing out to buy one? After all, I am not someone who has ever complained about reading from a computer screen. I’ve said before, I’m moth-to-light when it comes to the written word, someone who will read the backs of cereal boxes if that’s all I’ve got in front of me. Although I don’t particularly like to read books for pleasure on my laptop, I have been known to read books for work on my laptop (and, as a matter of fact, I read all my manuscripts in electronic format now, finding editing online to be much easier than on paper, although I’m sad to think all those old proofreading and editing marks will one day be forgotten). When I read for pleasure, I want something I can easily carry around with me, that doesn’t require an electrical outlet, and that can be read anywhere. I love the idea of being able to carry around as many books as I like without breaking my back. I love the idea of being able to buy new releases for $10.00. Given all these factors, you’d think I would have been first on the waiting list for the updated version of the Kindle.
Let’s forget practicalities, which means we won’t talk about the fact that (if the Kindle behaves the way most technology does) this “wireless reading device” is bound to come down in price at some point (especially since the whole technology industry finally seems to be waking up to the fact that consumers may not be so willing to keep buying “better” versions with no change in exorbitant prices). When it does come down in price, it will be far superior to the model we have now (maybe with battery charges that last months, instead of days? Wouldn’t that be nice?). The pocketbook is a very good reason not to race out and buy one right now.
We will also forget the fact that I’m down on the Amazon Empire. I’m down on the fact that they are the Walmart of Internet shopping. I don’t like what they do to publishers in terms of their print-on-demand practices. I don’t like the fact that the Kindle has its own e-book software that is not compatible with other e-book readers, so if you want to buy an e-book from Amazon, you have to use the Kindle. That’s smart business practice, I know, but the librarian in me really hates it. I mean, the beauty of the book is that it can easily be shared once someone has bought it, and so, theoretically, as long as public libraries exist, anyone from any socioeconomic class can get their hands on it. (That’s not good capitalist thinking, but it’s worked for the book for ages, probably because most book addicts are not good capitalist thinkers).
I suppose the real reason I don’t want one yet, though, has nothing to do with practicalities or radical boycotting of greedy corporations. What it all boils down to is that I haven’t quite accepted the fact that this is as good as it gets when it comes to e-book readers. I’m still holding out for the e-book reader I want.
At some point, I wish those who design electronic gadgets would think more carefully about their final users, rather than showing off what they can make their gadgets do. Besides students (because I am absolutely positive e-books are going to replace textbooks within the next five years), who is going to be using e-book readers? Why, those of us who have always used books, those of us who love to read. I know we make up such a tiny percentage of the population that it was probably difficult to bring a group of us together for focus groups when designing the Kindle, but really, I find it hard to believe Amazon bothered to consult any readers. It seems to me, if they had focus groups (which I’m sure they did), they just pulled together a bunch of tech-savvy youngsters.
So, what does my dream e-book reader look like and do? First of all, it’s more like a book. I don’t really care that it’s going to have to be made out of some sort of metal and plastic material, but I want it to open like a book. I don’t like the idea of scrolling through pages. Can’t it be hinged, just like my laptop, only be the size of, say, one of those moleskin diaries, and open vertically, the way a book does, rather than horizontally, the way a laptop does? It would then have a verso and recto page. After all, Microsoft has insisted on making Word documents sent via email open with that extraordinarily annoying effect. If we’re so insistent on trying to duplicate book-like pages on computer screens, why on Earth haven’t we thought to do so with e-book readers? When I’m ready to turn the page, I would like to press a button and have it look as though I’m actually turning a page (like those old movie shots, where you see the flipping through of pages on a great big book of fairy tales).
Speaking of moleskin, I am perfectly aware that this is a new technology and that means losing some of what I love about books, but it doesn’t mean we can’t have something that is tactically-and-visually-pleasing. This is our opportunity to create something new that we will come to love. That means I want a special case for my e-book reader, not something to carry it around in, but something that I can take off or keep on like a book jacket. It could be moleskin, or some other kind of leather. Soft, velvety cloth, or wood might be nice. Think of all the “accessorizing” possibilities. The company that designs this e-book reader could make a fortune off accessories alone (reading a horror story? Choose your black, velvet cover. Reading Rachel Carson? Go for the wood. Wearing the brown leather boots today? How about a brown leather case to match?).
Ideally, there would be some way to display what I am reading on the outside of my e-book reader for public viewing. I can’t possibly be the only nosy reader around who takes great pleasure in noting what people are reading on planes, trains, in waiting rooms, etc. And, despite being pathologically shy, I love it when someone comments on what I’m reading or asks me what I think of it. When I don’t want others to see what I’m reading (for times when I’m, like Stef recently was, reading Sexing the Cherry on the bus), I can just leave my reader in its (cherry red) case, but maybe publishers could still design “book covers” (because, let’s face it, covers are important, and I don’t particularly want to lose that feature of the traditional book) that would pop up on a “currently reading” screen. The screen would be visible on the outside of the reader, so if I’m laughing, people will know it's because I’m reading Three Men in a Boat.
My e-book reader also has to be food-and-drink proof. If I spill a couple of drops of water, tea, coffee, wine, etc. on it, I don’t want it to fizzle out on me. Likewise, if some crumbs happen to fall on it, I do not want them to disappear under buttons, freezing my “book,” and rendering reading impossible. Ideally, it will be drop-proof, because I’m quite clumsy. I will (after removing its moleskin cover, of course, the same way I remove dust jackets on traditional books) be able to read it in the bath. When you consider the fact we scuba divers now all use dive computers, it could actually be better than the traditional book, which doesn’t hold up too well when accidentally immersed in water, for bathtub reading.
I know figuring out some way to have it emit that new book or musty, used-bookstore smell is probably going a bit far, so I won’t request that of the designers. Tell me, can you see why I’m holding out? Don’t you think this e-book reader would be far preferable to the Kindle? And what would your ideal e-book reader be like?