Turn the Page

Somewhere during the advent of the cell phone, I became a gadget person. This is strange, as I can barely use a hammer. But with time my fascination with new technology grew to embrace the Mac, the iPod and then the iPhone.

And now I have a new toy that is every bit as revolutionary as the aforementioned.

Yes, I have a Kindle.

For those of you who do not know the device, the Kindle is a creation of Amazon.com. It is an eBook, meaning that it is a sleek, white tablet that instantly accesses and caches books in much the same way that an iPod manages music. With a push of a button, the world’s books are at your fingertips.

No finding time to rush to Barnes and Noble. No lugging seven books on a plane. No rummaging in a library. Just a wish for a book and … poof … you have it.

Magic.

And then, once you have bought the tome in five seconds for ten bucks, you can read it. Right away, in a variety of font sizes for aging eyes or reading environments.

As glorious as the Kindle is, it has made me the target of jibes from my many literate friends who view me as a Quisling.

How could anyone be less than thrilled with the feel of a book in hand? The turn of the page! The set of the font! The jacket design!    The soup stain on the page that will remain forever as a memory of when those words were read! Nothing will ever replace the book!

Well, take it from someone who loves books. They are wrong.

The Kindle is as revolutionary as Johannes Gutenberg’s press. Back in Johann’s time there surely were folks who still longed for reading monk etchings on parchment as those before them preferred papyrus and those before them preferred to take a stone tablet into the bathroom. But there were some early adapters who realized right away that Johann’s movable type would free them to access and read more books. 

Same with the Kindle.

The effects of the Kindle on me have been profound. Always an avid reader, I now read three times as much as in my pre-Kindle days. And a greater range of books, both fiction and non-fiction.

Moreover, I am a more informed citizen. If it were not for the Kindle I would not have read Thomas Ricks’ The Gamble or Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side. In fact, the very technology that has rendered the local paper nearly obsolete and left me longing for hard facts in a world of soft blogs has given me more and better information on this back side of the tech curve.

And one unintended consequence of the Kindle? My wife is happier with me. I now spend more time reading on our deck than gabbing at the rail of the Village Bar. And our television is not blaring the Brewers quite as often. Around our house, a quiet, reading husband is a welcome animal.

There will no doubt be another beneficial effect of the Kindle. In a few years, eighty-pound backpacks on the shoulders of fifty-pound scholars will go the way of walking ten miles to school in waste-deep snow.

Young students will simply have a small, nimble reading tablet with all their texts. And they will be able to reach into the ether and catch books they want to read themselves for the pure love of it, with the only impediment being a minimal cost. And as any good parent knows, a book for a child is not an expense. It is an investment, one that delivers quick returns.

That dexterity is the beauty of the Kindle and this new world.  

Although I too like the turn of a printed page, words crafted into ideas are the primary appeal of books. And that benefit has not changed. The words that take us elsewhere and allow us to visit worlds we do not know still remain. The only thing that has changed is that we, the readers, now have more control.

We are now freer to access those words, without the cumbersome process and cost of printing and distribution by truck. Without someone deciding what books we can read and what books slip out of print. 

Soon, as this latest revolution takes hold, no book will be out of our reach.

This past winter, I was north, alone at the cabin. I leaned back in the leather chair, with only a reading light and the fire holding off the darkness. I turned on the Kindle to read my book in progress, and a small icon in the upper right hand corner of the device flickered at me. It told me that, even in the far reaches of the cold Wisconsin woods, I had Kindle service.

The books of the world could come to me across the night and over the snow, in an instant.

Alone, like a madman, I hollered with glee.

Magic.

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Comments? Questions? Write john@jrpinc.com.
 

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