Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I have been Kindled

I am now well and truly Kindled!

After I had been kicking the idea around for months, at Christmas my family bought me an Amazon Kindle and in one leap I entered the age of digital reading. My idea was that having a Kindle would be much more convenient than lugging round armfuls of books as my travel schedule on planes, trains, buses, and automobiles expanded, and then there was the fact that the Kindle could help conserve the limited bookshelf space that we have.

I didn't have great ambitions for my Kindle at the outset, it was more about convenience than anything. But to my surprise I have fallen in love with this approach to reading and at this precise moment there are fifty-eight items on this little piece of equipment with room for about 1200 more. It is possible to carrying around a veritable library, and the whole thing weighs less than a pound. These days wherever I go I am able to take with me the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, the compete works of Shakespeare and Jane Austen, the whole of Sherlock Holmes, a whole scad of novels, some serious works of study and biography, and even PDF files that I need for my work. In there also is the American Oxford Dictionary, as well as the ability to switch on the wireless facility and download whatever I want from Amazon's library of about 450,000 electronic titles. I can even go online if I want to.

Several weeks ago I was reading in bed when reference was made to a title that I thought sounded interesting. I went exploring to see if by any chance Amazon had the book on its downloadable list -- they did, and so as I lay there under the covers I got it for myself to read and seconds later it was corralled on my Kindle and backed up both on my laptop and at Amazon's great cloud in the sky.

Since moving back to England I have been distinctly underwhelmed by the British press, but that problem has been solved by Kindle. I have always loved the International Herald Tribune, and each morning I turn my Kindle on a five o'clock when I get up and within seconds there is the daily paper, waiting to be read while I drink my first cup of tea of the day, and do my daily devotions.

Yesterday evening I came home from work, changed, and went out to the garage to pump my exercise bike. Kindle came with me. Before beginning to pedal I set up the text-to-speech capability and listened to pages of news from the paper as I looked after my body. I confess that I don't like the female voice that the Kindle has, it sounds too electronic and tinny, but apart from the occasional odd pronunciation the male voice is very listen-able to. I suspect that several generations of text-to-speech from now it will be difficult to tell that it is not a human voice that we're listening to, and we will probably be able to choose timbre and accent.

If I was into MP3s in a huge way I could store and play them on my Kindle, but I am a book person, and if I want to listen to music it will be classical on the radio or one of my nice CDs. I know that CDs are now considered old-fashioned, but I grew up in the day of vinyl records that galloped around the turntable at 78 rpm, so having it all on a disc makes me feel comfortable.

A fascinating title that I have on my Kindle is Publish Your Own Book on the Amazon Kindle. I haven't yet cracked it open, but it is enticing to think that it is entirely possible with a laptop and this Kindle technology to sidestep the publishers who might not be interested in a small niche market -- and do it myself.

Of course the Kindle has its shortcomings, and it is at present limited in ways that will not be the case as each new generation of the technology is launched. Already Amazon are strengthening their position for the future in this whole realm. I bought a hybrid car in December 2001, and although people thought I was nuts, we loved it. When I moved to England in September 2007 I bought the same model but six years on -- and the technology has moved on in leaps and bounds during that period of time. The e-reader will be the same. It probably won't be long before the Kindle produces huge pages in color as well as black-and-white, but for most of my reading a spectrum of shades is not necessary. I expect in due course it will get slimmer, lighter, swisher in its presentation of itself, but right now I am perfectly content with this approach to reading.

I would happily admit that the Kindle is probably not for everyone or for every type of literature. When I am working hard with what I will call a study book I go to and fro between the pages, underline, write comments in the margins, and so forth. While such a thing is possible with the Kindle it's a bit clunky. Also, because you can vary the size of the font so that page numbers don't work, distance into the book is measured by what it calls 'locations.' It took me a while to work out that these are the number of sentences. Page numbers really are an easier way of remembering where something is.

I suspect I am in the process of moving from a single approach to reading from books, magazines, etc., to a mixed economy of hard copy and my e-reader. Some things will work better in print, others on the nice little screen which doesn't glare at me, and to all intents and purposes looks like a page.

When I took my Kindle on its first transatlantic flight six or seven weeks ago I was afraid that the battery might give out on me. The fear was groundless. I could have gone around the world on one battery charge not just across three thousand miles of water or so. I reckon that the Kindle has about a 20-25 hour charge depending on how carefully you use it. I defy anyone to read for that long in one stretch!

So, as I say, I'm Kindled. I bought my first laptop (then called a portable computer) in 1988. It was a computer, yes, but not portable by today's standards, yet this technology in a few short years zipped forward and revolutionized the way we handle information. Today's Kindle is probably where the computing industry was with mobile computing in about 1990, and already there are other models and technologies nipping at Amazon's heels. We will have to see whether the reader by Plastic Logic or Apple's IPad are serious contenders, or whether the Kindle will stumble and give way to other software and hardware options in the future...

... but right now I would encourage you to think about Kindling yourself!