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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Konfessions of a Kindle Konvert

My plan for this morning was to do a side-by-side review of two identical newspapers, and the comparative experiences of downloading and reading them on the Kindle and Nook. Unfortunately, I live out here in cow country, where Internet service is provided by a subsidiary of the Ma & Pa Kettle Phone Company, and I was not able to do so for the very good reason that this morning, my Internet service went out again.

Typically, this is caused by someone missing a turn up on the highway and plowing his pickup trunk into one of the phoneco's strategically positioned junction boxes. The service came back up faster than usual this time, though, so the cause must have been something else.

Therefore, this afternoon, I would like to raise some philosophical points. Maybe it's a mistake to consider the various e-book readers strictly as electronic devices with assorted merits and drawbacks. Perhaps it's better to think of these things as merely the intrusions into local space/time of vast pan-dimensional information supply systems, with the quality of the user experience being highly dependent on the quality and reliability of the supply chain that streams bits to your local device.

I do believe in free and shareware content. I am a great fan of Project Gutenberg and the Baen Free Library, and was an active supporter of the fiction archive at infinityplus.co.uk while it was still active. But, let's be realistic for a moment: most people who buy these devices are not going to go to the time and trouble of finding content online, downloading it to their computer, and then porting it over to their e-book reader. Most will get the majority of their content from whichever vast pan-dimensional beast their device connects to by default.

Which immediately removes some devices from serious consideration. They may have interesting technical specifications and bang-for-buck out the wazoo, but without an easy way to find and download new content, they become irrelevant. Likewise, the financial health of the parent-beast becomes a consideration: do you really want to buy a device that's umbilically connected to a bookstore chain that might get bought, reorganized, or forced into bankruptcy next year?

As for all you concerned Libertarians who lay awake nights worrying about whose thumb is on the Internet "kill switch": what does that do to your prospects for getting long-term enjoyment out of your chosen e-book reader?

Finally, as for the rest of us: I'm not quite sure, but I do believe that I have a profound antipathy to the idea that in the future, my ability to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee and the Sunday paper will be controlled by some drunk and his ability to drive home from the bar safely on Saturday night.

But then, that's always been the case, hasn't it?
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