kindleI must have been living under a rock this last week (or, more accurately, living with my face in a great book) because today was the first time I heard of the Kindle, the new “ebook” released by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. It’s the size of a paperback, it can download books off the net, among other reading-related functions, and it cost $399.

News of the thing is suddenly everywhere. Today, while talking on the phone with my mom and checking my email at the same time, she asked me what I thought about it at the same time that my dad emailed me wondering my reaction to it. Upon arriving home this evening to curl up with my (hardcopy of) Newsweek, Kindle was on its cover. I took the hint and read the article.

What do I think of Kindle? Well, first off, I find it kind of weird that it’s named after something that starts a fire (a non-ebook burning fire?). Secondly, I’m not sure what to think.

My first impulse is to push it away. I love books. I also love bookcases and bookmarks and bookstores and book lights and bookends. Aren’t they good enough as they are – that is, totally wonderful? Why would I want a piece of cold, buzzing technology in my hands instead of a soft, fluttering book, each with its own scent and texture and font?

My second thought was that this rejection of new things was exactly how I felt about other things that are now not so new: cell phones (if I want to call someone, I can do it at home!), laptops (it doesn’t feel like I’m using a computer!), DVD players (it’s a fad like laserdiscs!). Maybe I wasn’t giving Kindle a chance.

The most interesting part of the Newsweek article (which I recommend you read, in whatever form suits you) was a first-person account by Steven Levy of using the device to read a few books – a real world test run. There were some surprising pros that had me thinking a little differently: 1) Since Kindle connects to something called the wireless Whispernet, you can download books from wherever you want, whenever you want – no more getting stuck without a book 2) you can subscribe to newspapers and magazines for a fraction of the cost 3) you can search your books for keywords or passages and 4) unlike I would have guessed, the reading experience is pretty similar to reading a regular old book.

On the downside, it seems to have a few too many buttons and, like all devices of this kind and unlike regular old books, runs on a battery that has to be recharged every now and again. I guess the thing that bothers me a bit is that I don’t want people to try and make reading “easier” or “more fun” or “more like surfing the web”. I don’t want reading to become a victim of a gimmick or of trends (screens are everywhere – we should have screens instead of books!)

Really, though, I don’t want to be the old lady that gets left behind in the eDust. You know, the lady who refuses to use the self check out at the grocery store even though the line’s a lot shorter? Or the lady who I cannot, for the life of me, explain the concept of Netflix to? The Kindle could save students tons of money on textbooks for example. The Kindle could save trees. The Kindle could change more than how books are read, but how they are written.

What I’m getting at is that I can’t fathom my life without books – lying all over my apartment, weighing down my bag, dominating my Christmas list. But I also couldn’t fathom what the hell the internet was even ten years ago and now it’s an almost vital part of my life. One thing that I really love about my mother is that through her life she’s always embraced new gadgets – she tells us about her first ten-pound calculator, or how they saved to buy one of the first VCRs – the kind that loaded from the top. It’s an important part of life to be curious, learn new concepts, and accept change and innovation.

Let’s see how things go. It’s way too expensive right now, but I’m not going to shut the idea of the Kindle out. On one hand, I’m not convinced that Bezos has reinvented the printing press. On the other hand, I don’t want to be like that old lady in second century Rome who didn’t think anything could truly replace her precious scrolls.

You can read the Newsweek article in full here (due to the wonders of technology).ย