Posted by: nickgerlich | December 4, 2007

Rekindled

We started this semester with a book review of China Road. At times it seems like that was a few years ago, but at other times, it seems like only yesterday. That book, in many regards, is more metaphor than it is travelogue of a faraway land. Maybe it’s because I feel like I am always on the road, on a nonstop journey to Points Unknown.

And along the way, my consumerist mindset finds me grabbing more stuff to take along for the ride. We once had a friend stay with us (in our BC–Before Children–days) for a year, and when we left, he declared he was going to be a minimalist. If it didn’t fit in his minivan, he no longer wanted it. He even left the rear bench seat with us to make room for his stuff (it took us a few years to get rid of it), but he accomplished his goal.

If only I could travel so lightly. Whenever I travel, I have my enormous backpack with a 17″ laptop, numerous jump drives, external hard drive, every cable imaginable, books, and magazines. You never know what you might need.

Which is why I am intrigued by the new Amazon Kindle, the new portable reader from Amazon. If it works as promised, it might shave considerable weight from my backpack…both metaphorically and literally.

Amazon KindleI have been preaching the doctrine of convergence for quite some time now, and the Kindle comes close to merging enough existing technologies into one device that it may well be worth the $400 to buy in to the concept. The only problem is that Amazon has already sold out of them for this holiday season.

Basically, the Kindle is a lightweight (10.3 ounces) eBook reader that has always-on connectivity, not via wifi, but rather Sprint’s EVDO high-speed data network. All content is purchased (except for free access to Wikipedia). Over 90,000 book titles are available for $10 each, as well as subscriptions to many major world newspapers ($10 and up per month), magazines (about $1.50 per month), and blogs ($1-2 per month). Audio books can also be loaded, and documents and images can be emailed to the reader (at 10 cents a pop). Finally, the optional SD card allows for additional data storage.

But the Kindle is not a web browser. Sure, you always have the one-click purchase option to download more content, but it does not allow for web surfing or email retrieval. A laptop, Blackberry, or iPhone are needed for these tasks. And unless you can find everything you want at Wikipedia, you had better get used to micropayments for everything else.

Given how heavy my backpack becomes during a trip, I kind of like the idea of adding one 10-ounce object if it means I won’t be tempted to buy anything else. I am notorious for being sucked into the web of airport newsstands. I love “airport books,” those titles I buy to consume while waiting for my connection or to stave off in-flight boredom. Never mind all the books and mags I have already packed for the trip; those get consumed in an Evelyn Wood Speed Reading heartbeat.

The big question, though, is whether this device will be embraced by the buying public. The price is still a tad steep, especially when you consider that Amazon is reaping the benefit of every sale. It’s almost like if they required you to buy your bookshelves from them to go with everything else you buy.

My problem, though, is not the money as much as it is the fundamental question: Will this effectively replace all the things I bring along or buy on the trip? Part of me says that this will just become another 10 ounces in my backpack…along with my bounty from the airport bookseller. This is Gadget Porn; any cool new electronic toy becomes the object of my heart’s desire.

But if this handy little device helps people fall in love with reading all over again, it will be money well spent. Now if I can just figure out how to get away with charging people to read my blog…

Dr “Not Counting On It” Gerlich

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