I’ve been playing with the Amazon Kindle for a little over a week now and while I’m sold on its superiority to printed books it’s no replacement for the newspaper. It’s not so much that the black and white screen renders pictures as murky as a Rorschach inkblot as the fact that there is no easy way to skim through the paper. You can jump between sections via a home page that acts like a very basic website navigation, but there’s no obvious way to navigate within a section. The International link, for example, takes you to the first article in that section. You can see the headline of the next article at the bottom of the page and jump straight to it, but that’s all. There’s no list of all the articles in the section. The only way to skim the headlines is to move forward one article at a time.
This serial navigation is how most of us read print newspapers and has no place as the only option for an electronic edition. But it got me thinking about the ideal features of an electronic newspaper. Obviously you want the freedom to navigate through the content as you wish, but serial navigation has its advantages. One of the pleasures of print is when you turn the page to find a interesting article that you would never have jumped to by choice. The serendipity factor doesn’t feel as high on the traditional newspaper website, despite the plethora of Editor’s Choice modules and Most Read lists.
Bookshops still have many advantages over Amazon.com: they let you pretend that going to the mall is an intellectual pursuit; it’s much easier to judge a book by its cover when you can pick it up before you buy it (embossed letters! amusing cut-outs!); and they are one of the few places where the unattached can use pick-up lines that name-check Dostoevsky. But perhaps the most compelling reason why many of us still depend on our local Barnes & Noble is the instant gratification. The prices on Amazon may be cheaper, but there are times when you absolutely have to have that copy of 1001 Dostoevsky Pick-up Lines now.
For some people, however, that trade-off is no longer a dilemma. These people are the lucky owners of a Kindle, the Amazon electronic book reader, which gives them discount prices plus the instant gratification of over-the-air delivery. For them, buying from Amazon is quicker than going to the bookshop.
Starting this blog was a costly decision. To be precise, $359. That’s how much I paid Amazon last night when I ordered a Kindle electronic book reader to kick off my plan to document the impact of digital media.
The Kindle is the missing piece in my digital life. I bought my first digital camera in 2000. I can’t remember the last time I purchase a CD. And since moving to the United States in September, I’ve largely given up DVDs in favor of videos streamed via broadband. My life is largely free of the clutter of silver discs and boxes of photos. The Kindle and devices like it promise to do the same for printed media.