Listen to what Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch had to say about the company’s newest Nook e-reader, released Tuesday.
It’s for people who are “turned off by buttons, keyboards, and complexity,” he said. “Kindle 3 has 38 buttons. That’s 37 more than the all-new Nook,” Lynch told the crowd at a media event in New York. Excess buttons, he noted, “assault the user.”And there’s 80% less flashing when you turn the pages!
Can’t you hear it? The growing roar of the unspeakably obvious?
“A simple interface without buttons.” Nope, doesn’t ring a bell.
“This e-reader is nice, but it’s distractingly functional,” customers are saying. “I want something like this, but with fewer buttons. Something lighter, with less glare, that won’t run out of batteries.”
There is a word for that.
“It’s the Nook Simple Touch reader!” Barnes & Noble yells.
Let me give you a hint.
It sounds like “nook.” It’s cheap. It’s portable. There isn’t glare. The buttons don’t assault you because there are no buttons. You can take it to the beach. When you’re done with it, you can display it in your home, like a hunting trophy. And they’re selling fewer and fewer of them.
It is screaming out to you, a voice in the Wilderness section of the bookstore.
“BOOOOOOOOK!” it shouts. “Boooooook.”
It is what people want but don’t know that they want. And by the time we realize it, it will be too late.
You’d think Barnes & Noble would know. They have millions on their shelves. Whenever anyone stops in the Nook Display Area at the front door of the megabookstore, I want to yell, “Like a Kindle, but with fewer buttons? Like an iPad, but with less glare? Look around you! Look around, you motherhatter!”
Whoever said words can’t hurt you never watched me beat an old man with the complete works of William James when he attempted to purchase a Nook SimpleTouch Reader.
This is awful. It is stupid. I hate it.
It’s like Cyrano de Bergerac, when Roxane begins enumerating the characteristics she actually wanted in a man. “I thought I wanted something beautiful and shiny to look at and easy on the eyes,” she murmurs. “But all along, what I wanted was a simple interface that I could not damage at the beach” (I’m departing a little from the Rostand text here) and that would allow me access to the treasures within.”
If we read books, maybe we’d know the word. Maybe we wouldn’t wander around looking like idiots.
But that’s all too typical these days.
“I want a mousetrap that provides companionship,” someone says. And our society rushes out and builds a robot mousetrap that you can program to sing one of eighteen customizable phrases. Well, something like that exists already in nature, and it’s infinitely superior in its present form.
Someone said a camel is a horse designed by committee. A Nook SimpleTouch Reader is a book designed by committee. It’s lumpy, it lacks the same functionality, and I wouldn’t take one with me to the Kentucky Derby if you paid me. Yes, it holds more. But it sacrifices the essence along with the form.
Books on tape were one thing. There’s a certain color and vitality that books derive when they are read aloud, distinct from the experience you have nestled up with one alone.
But put a book on a screen and it becomes simply a waste of a screen. “Why are you staring at those non-moving, totally uninteractive squiggles?” everyone asks. “It’s like an outdated hieroglyphic.” It is. It’s a message in a language we hardly speak anymore. It’s the communion of mind-to-mind that we have been systematically weeding out of our lives. Curl up in another person’s sentences and you can enter another world, glimpse your own existence for a moment through the lens of another mind. You can’t do that in a Facebook update.
But why bother? That might require concentration.
Now we just send headlines to each other.
After all, concentration is loosely defined as the delusion that what you are actually doing at any given time is more interesting than what the Internet might have to offer. Forget it. Let’s get “connected.” The Nook will let you do that. It’ll let you be “plugged in” to what your “friends” are “reading” — and if there were something more terrifying and ironic than scare quotes, I would use that instead.
If you want to be “plugged into what your friends are reading” while reading, then go yell over their shoulders every six words of “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” and see how they like it. That is the equivalent of what you would be doing if you were “live-tweeting” during reading a book.
Talking during movies only distracts the people around you. Talking during a book distracts you.
And maybe people get it. The invisible hand of the market, for once in its centuries-long life, is pointing away from more buttons. That’s what the customer seems to want. Not more. Not an assault of buttons and color and shiny screens. Less.
Something radical. Something portable.
And it’s not a Nook SimpleTouch Reader.