The Flow of the Kindle

 Posted by on 8 December 2009 at 8:00 am  Business, Epistemology
Dec 082009

I have a love-hate relationship with my Kindle. I wasn’t ready to buy one, but Paul gave me his smaller version when he upgraded to the larger version about two months ago.

I love having so many books at my fingertips, in a slim little device. I’m even going to be able to read some hard-to-find books — like the complete works of Frances Hodgson Burnett. That’s 35 books for a mere five dollars. (You can find free versions, but apparently these sets are nicely formatted.) It’s easy to read on the Kindle, particularly with the adjustable font size.

However, its clunky interface leaves much to be desired, as does its lack of any easy software for managing files. For example, changing the meta-data in files requires something on the order of sacrificing a goat. (Yes, I’m fussy about that kind of thing.) Basically, I hate the fact that the Kindle is not a Mac. But once you get used to it, it’s okay.

So far, I’ve mostly used the Kindle to read fiction. That works fine, although I’m a bit frustrated by my inability to determine (in some easy way) how far I have to finish a chapter. However, my first attempt to read something serious on it — namely Tara Smith’s Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics — was an abject failure. We’ve just started the book in 1FROG, and I thought I’d try to re-read it on the Kindle.

It was a disaster — not just for the discussion but also just for my own understanding. Without physical pages, I simply couldn’t get a handle on the structure of the text. I felt lost in a Heraclitean stream of words. I couldn’t remember what was where. The more that I flipped back and forth, the more confused I got. I could make notes in the text, but not useful notes. The keyboard is too tiny for substantive notes, and I can’t implement my super-handy system of tiny little margin notes. My margin notes are a huge help to later skimming. (That’s critical for group discussion.) And they help me retain the material as I read it, in that I pause to think and process in the course of making those notes.

In short, trying to read Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics on the Kindle felt like I was trying to remember the progression of a run done on the treadmill, where the scenery is always the same. In contrast, reading a physical book was like remembering a similar run done through some neighborhood, where the varying landscape cements memories.

I’ll likely be able to use the Kindle for reading serious material — provided that I’m just doing a survey, rather than a serious, intensive read. I’ll have to read on the Kindle like I’d listen to an audiobook. Basically, I’ll need to set lower expectations for retention and integration. That means that most of the time, when reading a serious work of non-fiction, I’ll prefer a physical copy — at least for now.

Still… if all that I ever do with the Kindle is read fiction (and lighter non-fiction) on it, I’ll be pretty happy.

Given my mixed experience, I’m really amazed by these sales numbers, given in an interview with head honcho Jeff Bezos.

Of all the books that Amazon sells, what percentage are digital books?

For every 100 copies of a physical book we sell, where we have the Kindle edition, we will sell 48 copies of the Kindle edition. It won’t be too long before we’re selling more electronic books than we are physical books. It’s astonishing.

Of course, most readers don’t have my need for intensive reading of serious books. Yet still, WOW.

Oh, and this exchange is pretty funny:

What do you say to Kindle users who like to read in the bathtub?

I’ll tell you what I do. I take a one-gallon Ziploc bag, and I put my Kindle in my one-gallon Ziploc bag, and it works beautifully. It’s much better than a physical book, because obviously if you put your physical book in a Ziploc bag you can’t turn the pages. But with Kindle, you can just push the buttons.

What if you dropped your Kindle in the bathtub?

If it’s sealed in a one-gallon Ziploc bag? Why don’t you try that experiment and let me know.

Jeff Bezos does seem a bit prickly! (Via Jason Crawford.)

Note for the sake of the vicious statists at the FTC: If you buy something from Amazon using the links above, I might earn a few pennies.

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha