Blackspot

Melt Your Kindle

The Kindle is not a book and three arguments why this matters.

The trouble with abstract thought is that the concepts we play with in our minds often become preferred to the real upon which these concepts were originally based. As soon as we draw a picture, or take a photograph, of a bird we often no longer care whether the bird continues to exist. The picture is, in our visual society, superior to the chirping bird. This trait of our world-view leads to a despairing and paradoxical situation where our cultural storehouse of symbols, imagery, art and concepts increases in direct proportion to the death of our planet, living beings, other world views, beautiful landscapes, etc. It is for this reason that we should reject the Kindle and hope for its failure: the Kindle ultimately tends toward making books superfluous and replacing them with the mere appearance of books. The Kindle is not a book. It is instead a machine mimicking the external traits of a book while destroying the essence of the book: the trace of the author, the community of readers and the call to deep, meditative reflection.

There are many different levels on which to attack the Kindle. One tactic, which is always bound to failure, is to say that the Kindle is not good enough. This argument generally accepts the premise of the Kindle but argues that for whatever technical reason, the Kindle is a bad product. This is the worst kind of argument to make because it clears the way for Kindle to go through several new iterations, each step taking it closer to "technical perfection" and making these arguments absurd. Instead, we must reject the Kindle even if it manages to overcome all the technical objections to its use.

Instead, I propose three arguments that try to strike the essence of the Kindle. The underlying principle of each position is that the Kindle is not a book, that it is instead a computer that displays text in a (ostensibly) readable manner. It may seem absurd to point this out, but let's define our terms once again: the Kindle is a text-displaying computer that uses electricity; a book is a series of physical pages bound together and covered in permanent ink which requires no energy to display. Now we may proceed to the three arguments against Kindle.

Argument one: The Kindle destroys the trace of the author. After the death of the individual author, books continue to live. They carry the trace of the authors life and thoughts on the page and show this trace through the physical existence of the book. If you hunt for books in bookstores instead of libraries, you may not realize that every age has bound its books differently, used different papers and inks and decorated the page in various ways. The materiality of the book gives us a taste of the author and the time when the book was made. Each book is different and an avid reader can often remember the color of their favorite book or the feel of its pages. The Kindle destroys this because it divorces the text from the book. It displays every book the same. While the text on the screen may changes the physical object in one's hands stays the same. This has some troubling consequences for our relationship to the author's words because what the Kindle really displays is one long book -- simply a long stream of endless, digitized words.

Argument two: the Kindle destroys the community of readers which books engender. The Kindle has been devised by a society that wants to make profit each time a text is read rather than each time a book is purchased. In the old system, once I bought a book I owned it as an object. I could read it as many times as I liked and give it to friends who may give it to their friends. That is the basis behind public libraries, we all share books because we understand that there are more books we'd like to read than we'd ever be able to afford to read. This creates a community of readers who circulate books amongst themselves for the benefit of all. The Kindle is the end of that, no more sharing books, no more public libraries, no more sitting in a bookstore and reading a book without buying it. The Kindle is a prison for words.

Argument three: the Kindle denies the call to deep, meditative reflection. Books have a magic power in that they can draw us into the world of the author and make time pass quickly while we are immersed in the text. The book is the ideal format for presenting complicated, philosophical arguments that require the reader to pause between paragraphs and reflect. The Kindle is the opposite -- it is merely a television for reading text, a computer that will distract us. Furthermore, the adoption of the Kindle will destroy the culture of reading that sets aside sacred places for study: libraries. The Kindle makes these special places unnecessary because it argues that the library will be carried in our pocket. But with the loss of quiet study places for the public will come the loss of the public's capacity for quiet study. This is why some commentators have already reflected that the Kindle is best for trashy novels. But if the Kindle becomes widespread, all we will have is trashy novels.

I present these three arguments in honor of Digital Detox Week. I will post no more blogs this week but instead hope that you have a great seven days offline.

Micah White is a Contributing Editor at Adbusters magazine and an independent activist. He is writing a book on the future of activism. www.micahmwhite.com or micah (at) adbusters.org

Adbusters 111 Cover

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At last we’re in Winter. It’s the year 2047. A worn scrapbook from the future arrives in your lap. It offers a stunning global vision, a warning to the next generations, a repository of practical wisdom, and an invaluable roadmap which you need to navigate the dark times, and the opportunities, which lie ahead.

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88 comments on the article “Melt Your Kindle”

Displaying 1 - 10 of 88

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Matías

You're no more no less than an apocalyptic. Your beloved paper books costs a lot in my country. Our libraries are empty, no new material, the government won't invest there. I wish I could have a Kindle, even if I pay the books in US dollars they'll be cheaper than the ones in book shops around here that I can pay with my currency. With these three arguments I think you also deny the book industry. Maybe these arguments are the same arguments to do not have a pdf version of your magazine.

Matías

You're no more no less than an apocalyptic. Your beloved paper books costs a lot in my country. Our libraries are empty, no new material, the government won't invest there. I wish I could have a Kindle, even if I pay the books in US dollars they'll be cheaper than the ones in book shops around here that I can pay with my currency. With these three arguments I think you also deny the book industry. Maybe these arguments are the same arguments to do not have a pdf version of your magazine.

Micah White

I'd argue that you are being given a false choice between no books (empty libraries) and no books (Kindle). Empty libraries cannot be fixed via the Kindle, the Kindle is equal to empty libraries.

Micah White

I'd argue that you are being given a false choice between no books (empty libraries) and no books (Kindle). Empty libraries cannot be fixed via the Kindle, the Kindle is equal to empty libraries.

EK

Ah, the scary Fahrenheit 451 question. Is the Kindle finally the demise of the objects many of us love well? I hope not. I work in a bookstore. I love the smell, the aesthetic appeal, the history of paper text. Have you ever picked up a used book and found someone else's philosophical insights scrawled in the margins? But it may not be inherently evil, either. Are Cd's more evil than vinyl? ...some would probably say yes. Are books more evil if they are printed than if they are hand-written by monks? The question is what matters? What is the essence of the printed word? I would argue it's the idea that is being transmitted. What's the point of blogging if you can't have meditative insight transmitted through a computer screen? I don't think we'll see the end of books in our lifetime. I'm sure all of us nostalgics will keep our small libraries and sacred places well into our old age. The Kindle may be convenient for those who are too lazy to carry a print copy of War and Peace or The Count of Monte Cristo with them on their daily commute, but they are still reading Tolstoy and contemplating revenge with Edmond Dantes. We can despise the loss of the aesthetic, but I think the Kindle may not be evil incarnate.

EK

Ah, the scary Fahrenheit 451 question. Is the Kindle finally the demise of the objects many of us love well? I hope not. I work in a bookstore. I love the smell, the aesthetic appeal, the history of paper text. Have you ever picked up a used book and found someone else's philosophical insights scrawled in the margins? But it may not be inherently evil, either. Are Cd's more evil than vinyl? ...some would probably say yes. Are books more evil if they are printed than if they are hand-written by monks? The question is what matters? What is the essence of the printed word? I would argue it's the idea that is being transmitted. What's the point of blogging if you can't have meditative insight transmitted through a computer screen? I don't think we'll see the end of books in our lifetime. I'm sure all of us nostalgics will keep our small libraries and sacred places well into our old age. The Kindle may be convenient for those who are too lazy to carry a print copy of War and Peace or The Count of Monte Cristo with them on their daily commute, but they are still reading Tolstoy and contemplating revenge with Edmond Dantes. We can despise the loss of the aesthetic, but I think the Kindle may not be evil incarnate.

Frank

A good place to begin to think about what is at stake with this new form of media is here: http://www.left-bank.org/bey/immediat.htm Media, even the memory, can replace real experience. On the other hand, media (starting with memory) is necessary for reflection. All media call us away from reality, Sartre noted this nearly a century afo. the issue with something like Kindle becomes complicated in the same way the internet does in that it requires a massive and easioy conrolled distribution system which lends itslef to all kinds of censorship. The real question we should be asking is what is the place of media, including the printed word, in relationship to reality. Whether video or nostalgia, we are always in danger of replacing the thing with its image. Let us always be certain that our media points us back to the real world.

Frank

A good place to begin to think about what is at stake with this new form of media is here: http://www.left-bank.org/bey/immediat.htm Media, even the memory, can replace real experience. On the other hand, media (starting with memory) is necessary for reflection. All media call us away from reality, Sartre noted this nearly a century afo. the issue with something like Kindle becomes complicated in the same way the internet does in that it requires a massive and easioy conrolled distribution system which lends itslef to all kinds of censorship. The real question we should be asking is what is the place of media, including the printed word, in relationship to reality. Whether video or nostalgia, we are always in danger of replacing the thing with its image. Let us always be certain that our media points us back to the real world.

Cathy Stanton

I agree this is an odd argument for someone from Adbusters to be making (just as I think the "Digital Detox Week" is an odd campaign for Adbusters to be running). Paper media also require energy to produce, if not to read; the traditional publishing industry has not historically been a non-profit paradise devoted to printing books for their own sake; and all media, including the basic units of text and images, separate us from "reality" to some extent. I don't like the Kindle, either, but I don't see it as some kind of straw that's likely to break the back of our collective literary camel. It's just one more gizmo that we need to consider (and use, if we use it) in thoughtful, conscious ways that are attentive to the social conditions of its production and the social consequences of its use.

Cathy Stanton

I agree this is an odd argument for someone from Adbusters to be making (just as I think the "Digital Detox Week" is an odd campaign for Adbusters to be running). Paper media also require energy to produce, if not to read; the traditional publishing industry has not historically been a non-profit paradise devoted to printing books for their own sake; and all media, including the basic units of text and images, separate us from "reality" to some extent. I don't like the Kindle, either, but I don't see it as some kind of straw that's likely to break the back of our collective literary camel. It's just one more gizmo that we need to consider (and use, if we use it) in thoughtful, conscious ways that are attentive to the social conditions of its production and the social consequences of its use.

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