Discourse / Editorials / February 4, 2010

Depending on the Kindles of strangers

In an era where everything is acceptable as long as it bears a trendy and non-threatening name — Blackberry, Pod, Sprout, Chocolate, Spanx, Apple, Widget, etc. — the doo-dad I object to most is the one on all our lips. I am talking, of course, about the Kindle. As both a reader and an attempted writer, and for anyone else who fits this description, it is a downright duty to protest these 10.2-ounce terrors.

Yes, they are in fact more convenient, if convenience may be measured in ounces alone.

Yes, they are arguably slightly better for the environment. Better for trees, yes, though worse for petroleum output — that is my personal opinion. But trees are something in peril that everyone can understand, so the environmental argument for Kindle remains highly advertised and highly moralized, though I still disagree.

Yes, they are often smaller than books, more portable than books, more practical than books. But in the era of unspeakable technology, is there nothing to be said for a little tangibility?

In this new, third decade of the Information Age, we have every fragment of knowledge we need, but we cannot touch it. We can no longer say precisely where we heard something stated. The phrase, “Oh, I read that somewhere” no longer carries credibility or sway, because if we can read anything true or untrue, let alone with such fostered ease, we gain no solid base upon which to stand. To hold every fragment of information out there is, indeed, to keep ourselves fragmented.

Kindles cannot be heirloomed. Kindles cannot be discovered in a box in the attic and produce the same effect on the reader decades later. Years from now, in these boxes where books should be, a Kindle will have warped in the summer heat, or would’ve lost battery function in the winter cold, or simply grown too outdated to function. This is not the legacy we ought to be leaving: a history of the quickly obsolete.

Or perhaps that is all a bit too romanticized for the practical thinker? Consider this, then.

If we take Kindle use to the most extreme lengths (though unfortunately, not very unrealistic ones for our near future), and assume that everyone only uses Kindles for their reading, then the world’s database will be reduced to 9.7 inches of screen. Think about the impact that has on our organic tissues: our eyes will only respond to glow. Our necks will no longer need to swivel to find their cerebral reward. Like today’s iPhone users, everyone will be crouched over a tiny and centralized thing, and heads will not move, only thumbs. Think about how much more motionless and hunched our society would — will — be.

What with the scrolling feature and adjustable text zoom, our fingers won’t even need to guide our eyes to a word in the dictionary, and we don’t have to continue our top news story on page 6 — we’re already there. There will be no transitions to take in our reading, no break between lines.

It is this precise break that creates the poetry of our species. It is this break and its tiny respite that keeps our eyes functioning, keeps us guessing, that teaches us patience and deferred gratification and yes, even love. There is something to be gained from this waiting: the training of our eyes not to skip the next line, accidentally or otherwise. The beauty in the burden on our hands, in the turning of a page.

I don’t wish to be as constant as a Kindle. I want to wait for some things, to have a pause between now and my next breath. I want to sit on a train and remember that it’s possible merely to consider the destination, before it rushes up in an unfaltering and obscene gleam.

Paper and people — these keep life in motion. Let’s not ruin that – let’s keep our heads up.

Email Marnie at mshure@knox.edu.

Marnie Shure

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