So my first ebook reader a basic Kindle 4 came in the post just as the first Kindle fire was being launched in the States. I had been thinking of getting one for a while but with the recent revised lineup bringing a nice design simplification and price drop of the basic model I decided to take the plunge now. After a few weeks a weekend away and a Christmas break with it I think I have a good basic impression of the Kindle and the act of reading on one.
A great review by Justin helped me make my mind up especially about which Kindle I should choose. So instead of doing a pale imitation of that or some other tech review I thought I’d put down a few notes about what I like and dislike about the act of reading on a kindle and how it may change not only reading but how we access information in the future.
I have quite enjoyed the physical act of reading on the kindle. Contrast and readability is not quite as good as in a normal book but it’s not far enough off to get in the way of the reading experience. Refreshing the page is a bit like clearing an etch a sketch and was a little jarring to me at first but after completing my first book I could and did pretty much ignore it.
With a leather cover the kindle feels like a nice notebook and there is an additional sensation of holding a kind of personal library, so physically it is quite rewarding. It is however not as rich or directly engaging as a really well designed book which by typeface, photos, graphics and layout still can trump easily the kindle experience. A good example would be the physical book that has been holding my attention for the last few weeks the excellent and really well designed Project Japan which in a thick slab of colour and monochrome really shows that the book won’t be leaving us just yet.
Reading and books seem totally synonymous, but books are just the current reading technology, and reading , the written language is now much more than just books so it might be worth taking a step backwards before projecting too much into the future.
Before books we had scrolls, but books were an advance on almost every level over the scroll. They come with their own protection the hard cover, they are easier to store, with a table of contents and index it is much easier to get to the part of the text you are interested in quickly. It is easier to read either one-handed or with it open on a table and copying or making notes from.
So although at first the book was more expensive and required more time and skill in assembling they had practical advantages that increasingly outweighed the scroll. Technological advances continuously widened this advantage for instance with the ability to mass produce book runs with the Guttenberg press. Indeed it is worth noting although not the topic I’m writing about here how the form of text transmission could have said to change even the content itself.1
But just as the industrial revolution changed our relationship to things forever so the internet threatens to change our relationship to things and to people in even deeper ways. So how does the kindle change text over say hypertext or other e-readers? Well you can read your book(s) not just on the kindle but on the web , on your phone ….anywhere and if it is connected to the web you will start where you left off before no matter what device that was and continue where you stopped, again whatever device, or location that happens to be.
So Hypertext is a link between one piece of text and another, but nothing else. The e-reader of the future, the kindle right now2 is the linking not just of one piece of text to another but potentially a persons complete reading life. Everything not just in one place but in any place, at any time, in any way.
The kindle then really isn’t just an e-reader it’s actually a reading continuum, a new way of reading. Like the book started as a way to put scrolls together, the kindle is a way to put books, or any text, together3. There are no more pages anymore just the place you last were. A search can take you anywhere in your ‘book’ or in your collection. Without ‘pages’ to speak of the kindle is more like a window on an endless text.
Oh and at the Amazon website you get your own place where your notes and highlights are uploaded automatically and stored. Here you can rate and review books and connect to other kindle users, so the social aspect of reading on the kindle is starting to be explored and utilised by Amazon already.
The kindle is a little locked down and proprietary at the moment. But it’s the furthest anyone has yet got with the endless book, a book platform somewhere to gather and distribute text without limit. For me as an avid reader I already love my Kindle and am looking forward to see where the Endless book platform takes us.
This post was lying around for many weeks two-thirds done and during that time Dan Hill kicked off the Domus series of design of everyday technology and then I found booktwo by James Bridle. Both deepened my appreciation of the subjects I touched on above if not unfortunately being able to improve my writing about them.