Monday, November 2, 2009

To Kindle...or not to Kindle...that is the question...

If it keeps up, man will atrophy all his limbs but the push-button finger. ~Frank Lloyd Wright

In the past few months, the term "Kindle" has entered my vocabulary at a rate that I never could have predicted. My daughter's college preparatory boarding school in Massachusetts is the first in the country to adopt a Kindle library. This prompted national debate between old fashioned bibliophiles and forward thinking technology savvy that turned quite ugly. Those who felt this traditional, historical institution was betraying its mission were irate. Those who believed that we need to prepare the next generations' leaders for all forms of communication found these remarks ignorant and backward. The traditionalists likened the headmaster to instigating a Nazi book burning. The progressives hailed him as a genius on the cutting edge. As for myself, I listened to both sides and chose to wait and see how the Kindles played out in school.

During the parents' weekend recently, I had the opportunity to attend my daughter's classes with her. Her Honors Sophomore English class was actually selected to be the test class for the use of Kindles in place of books. I steeled myself to listen to opposing points of view within the classroom, from both parents and students alike. What happened surprised me: the use of the Kindle had almost nothing whatsoever to do with the class. The students did give a brief synopsis of their feelings on the technology for the benefit of their assembled families. Other than that, the teacher and children proceeded to discuss their books, their study groups and their impressions without regard to the Kindles. The children were articulate about their chosen works and engaging in the way they approached their subject matter. The Kindles themselves were the back story within this course. I couldn't see that the technology made the course easier or more difficult. In fact, it didn't seem to play much of a role other than the media attention. The class was run as one would expect a traditional English class to be run: a balance between the instructor's thought provoking questions and the students' well intentioned answers.

As I passionate Bibliophile, I must say that I have had my reservations about Kindles. I love the feel of holding a book in my hand. I love looking at the front and back covers, wondering how they will give the reader a glimpse into the story. I adore the feeling of putting my finger in between pages to hold my place, if I need to take a break. I feel giddy the first moment I open a new book, and I feel a little sad when I'm on the final page. There is a feeling of accomplishment, however, of holding the vast majority of the pages in my left hand, while my right hand feels increasingly lighter. The tactile sensation of book reading, and also of seeing the letters form patterns on the page, is comforting. I'm also a loyal library user. If I were to buy every book I read, I'd not only be deeply in debt, but drowning in books. Additionally, I love the community that going to the library offers; you can meet with other book lovers, discuss new titles and share common authors.

On the other hand, the thought of having hundreds of thousands of books, plus newspapers and other media, downloadable at my beck and call is deliciously tempting. When waiting in line to speak with the math teacher during Parent Teacher conferences, I spoke with the father of another student, who was perusing the NY Times on his own Kindle, during the down time between meetings. This gentleman happily showed me the features he was delighted about, and openly shared the drawbacks he hoped would be addressed in the next Kindle version. When I pack a bag to go on a trip, I generally bring 3 books, a newspaper and a couple of magazines. The space saving alone is incredibly appealing for travel. I also love the practicality; because I'm a voracious reader, I tend to get through books faster than I'd like....which will leave me with a literary vacuum if I don't have another book. With a Kindle, I could download my next wishlist item immediately. The instant gratification aspect of the Kindle is seductively intriguing. When I perused Amazon's site, I felt like Eve, as if the serpent assured me that I would not die by purchasing one.

It was with great happiness that I was asked to be one of the testers for my own library's pilot program using Kindles. I felt both honored and excited to get to try out all the features about which I'd been curious. The program at my local library loads 5 popular titles and those are simply what come with the Kindle. At this point in the testing process, there is no availability to choose what's on the unit. I received my Kindle, my quick start training and went home eager to begin the Kindle chapter in my life. What I discovered was that I'd already read four of the five given books. As I began to read the 5th, which wasn't necessarily one I'd have chosen myself, I did discover that I enjoyed being able to play around with the font size. Now that I'm in my 40's, being able to increase the font slightly made my reading much easier. That said, I was lost. I kept losing my place in the book, and seemed to scroll too quickly to find it again. While trying to return to my missing page, I somehow managed to delete the entire book. There was no way to get it back. It was, in short, a bust. It did make me realize that I do not need a Kindle, and for that, I'm grateful. I also realized that until a library system, perhaps as Netflix has developed for movies, exists the point in my needing a Kindle remains moot.

My daughter, on the other hand, is loving hers. She has no idea how I managed to remove a book or why I found it so difficult to navigate. She's also of the generation who can text faster than they can speak, and for whom portable technology is an integral part of life. As for me, I'm content to wait for the Advanced Idiot-proof version of the Kindle, complete with a built in GPS, Phone, MP3 Player, Massage Therapist and Personal Chef. Until then, I'll be the woman holding up the line at Security at the airport, with my two carry-ons of books and magazines. I'll also be the woman who can curl up with a good book without the worry of the power supply running out. I don't think that instant gratification will ever replace the Christmas morning feeling of having an inter-library loan book come in with my name on it. Somehow, it just feels more personal.

1 comment:

TulipGirl said...

It will be interesting to see what psych research is done on this in the coming decades. I saw a study this week that indicated those who were more active on facebook were more likely to not do as well in academics. (Makes sense to me -- I procrastinate in my own schoolwork by browsing facebook.)

It's hard for me to imagine a non-online life. I'm so "connected" now. . . morning routine includes checking email. I'm spend slightly less online time now that I have a blackberry, ironically. (Easy to skim email, hard to respond and get sidetracked elsenet.)

On the other hand, it's so easy to check in online that I found myself checking my BB when out on a coffee date today! *blush* I didn't like that. . .

So, it seems the kindle is just an outgrowth of what is "normal." Part of me is a traditionalist. I want the feel of a book, the smell of ink, the physicality of it all. On the other hand, some of the books I reference a lot I would love to have a ctrl+F feature to find what I know I've read and need to find again. *cough, Berkhof* I've been tempted to buy Amazon digital editions of Berkhof and other frequently referenced works just for that.

And considering that this tech was all still developing when I started using it, and how it is so "normal" for my kids. . . well. . . it will be interesting to see how C and her school's experience is with kindle and switching to the digital format as their primary texts.