Amazon, I have a complaint.
It’s not that I dislike you. You have a great thing going. Cheap music. Cheap books. Cheap video. And the new Kindle Touch and Kindle Fire tablets seem great. “Premium products at non-premium prices.” Bravo. Seriously. Bravo.
But look: I love books.
I realize that my function is increasingly as a Literature Cassandra. Every few months, an innovation occurs in book-reading technology and I come out of the woodwork and wail and tear my hair, like one of those other things that emerges from woodwork at intervals to croak ominously. A cuckoo.
If book-reading technology had stopped at the book, I’d have been fine.
But no. We beat onward, boats against the current, or with the current technology, or something.
And it worries me.
I love the Internet. It reared me. It gave me The Talk. Whenever I have personal or professional difficulties, I ask the Internet first. When I have health concerns, the Internet is there to reassure me that it’s probably a brain tumor. Once, for two months, at the Internet’s behest, I did sit-ups and ate kale, and sure enough, I got my man back, just as Yahoo! Answers said I would.
My point is that the Internet and I are already joined at the hip, where I have had my smartphone surgically implanted. Our relationship is strong. It has never been stronger.
So it does not embarrass me to admit that I’m worried by all these increasingly functional eReaders. The new Kindle is fine. But what’s this Fire tablet, Amazon?
Look, if you put the Internet on the device I am supposed to be using to read, I will never read again.
Can you blame me? I am only human.
I can’t focus. If all these studies about multitasking have taught us anything, it is that we all think we can multitask but no one actually can. In the course of writing this I have eight times run off and reloaded the page to see if anything had happened on YouTube that I should know about.
This is not theoretical.
It’s times like this that I think how delighted I would be if the Internet stopped. “Finally, no Twitter to keep me from reading ‘Madame Bovary’!” I would exclaim.
Then I’d realize I couldn’t access any of the books on my Kindle.
But books are wastes of screens. You give me a dual-processor, web-reading, multitasking wonder-screen for just $199 —it would be almost insulting to use it for books. That’s like hiring a porn star to read you the Encyclopedia Britannica. It’s a waste of resources.
And it’s not just screen guilt. We can’t focus, ever. On anything. Few and far between are the conversations that are more interesting than the content of our iPhones. And compared to books, people have a lot going for them. They at least move about and are vaguely interactive. Books just sit there, inert. You have to breathe life into them with your imagination. Sometimes there are long boring stretches where the author goes on a tangent about the nature of memory. For my money I’d just as soon visit TV Tropes.
And with the Kindle Fire, that’s exactly what I’ll wind up doing.
It’s not that people will stop reading. We do vast amounts of reading online every day — the equivalent of a good Hemingway novel. But it’s not deep but broad, not focused but fast.
But kiss books goodbye — as generally happens when you toss them into a Fire.