Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Kindle Revolution

I'm 55% through Intellectuals and Society by Thomas Sowell, 35% through Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Taleb and 85% through Let there Be Range by Cole South (a poker book). And I just got the latest New Yorker delivered wirelessly to me which has a couple of essays/articles I want to read, including a new essay by Malcolm Gladwell. Maybe it's just me, but the Kindle has revolutionized the way that I digest information. In school you always had a schedule of courses, each with their own unique material which you were expected to learn all at the same time, more or less. Where your time and effort modulated between subjects. Some are more adept at handling this process than others, but on average most of us are at least capable of it. However, when it came to my personal reading/studying time, I would always start a book and not read anything else until I finished it. Not because I thought I was incapable of mentally juggling material, but because I was physically incapable of lugging libraries around. Or at least I chose not to be so discomforted. In school I had to lug books around, but in my post-school life I was determined to avoid that if at all possible.

When I heard about the Kindle it sounded intriguing to me as a reader, but it didn't excite me that much. I didn't see there being a large incentive to get away from old-fashioned, cover-bound, printed books. But this was a case of "you don't know what you're missing until you've tried it." My lovely wife got me the Kindle as a gift, and since then I've become a more voracious reader. I read more often now, but also, when I'm reading, I feel like that time is utilized much more efficiently than it was pre-Kindle. Intuitively this doesn't make much sense. After all, I'm still holding a device that's approximately the same size as a book, just as I would be if I were reading a real book. So what's changed? I think the biggest difference is having your library at your fingertips. Not just your library but also the ability to purchase new books from your device as they are recommended to you.

Also, the physical difference may be slight, but I underestimated it. For an extreme example, I don't think I could have gotten through a physical, cover-bound copy of Infinite Jest. The weight of the thing, and the effort it takes to keep the pages open, not to mention the flipping back and forth to read Wallace's end notes. Combined with Wallace's dense, complex prose and it would have been even more of a chore (and of course, it is by design). But with the Kindle the task was decidedly easier. A very light device, and whenever a end note shows up I could simply click the end note, go read it, and instantly click back. These are little differences that cumulatively have made a big difference for me. The few seconds you save here and there add up.

I don't fully understand myself why some small conveniences made such a large difference in my desire to read and my ability to process information from disparate sources simultaneously. And maybe for some people it wouldn't make any difference. But it did for me. Long live Kindle!

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