Dropping the Kindle

I bought the Kindle 2 early last Spring, but despite using it heavily through the following Summer I’ve essentially abandoned the device, not having used it for a few months now.

Partly the reasons are just practical things that will likely be (and in some cases have been) alleviated in future versions. No colour, no support for Japanese text, spotty availability for books I want, lousy formatting for others, and a few other nuisances. To the Kindle’s credit, there is still a lot of material available, I do like the iPhone app, and I especially like how it handles annotations and dicionary lookup.

However… however… I still have to drop it. The Kindle simply does not engage the reader as well as a traditional physical book. Though certainly better than a computer monitor or iPhone, following a story or argument remains more difficult than with print. I can only speculate why, but suspect that the reason lies largely with print’s more tactile experience. I remember a professor of mine, while discussing interactive fiction, commenting that one also interacts with print books by turning pages. At the time that seemed a bit silly, but looking back I think there’s more than a grain of truth to that. Though small, turning pages, physically taking a pencil or highlighter to make notes, even that used book smell, engage the reader more than just hitting a key or scrolling a mouse wheel.

In any case, I also happen to love used bookstores. Just randomly browsing bookshelves is a lot of fun for me, and I like seeing the annotations, doodles, and whatnot from previous owners. The Kindle does highlight frequently noted passages, but that’s just an aggregation with no personality, something like getting information about a show or novel series or whatever from a Wikipedia article versus a fansite. The aggregation may have more data, but lacks personality. In textbooks especially, those signs of life reminded the student of those who’ve struggled in the academy before. The days of print as a dominant media may, in the long run, be numbered, but I can see myself holding out for a long time.

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