Communion Of Dreams


Still a long way to go.

A friend dropped me a note last night, asked what I thought of Kindle, the new e-book reader from Jeff Bezos/Amazon. My reply:

I think it is still a hard sell. $400 is a chunk for something which only kinda-sorta replaces a real book. And if you drop it in the mud, it isn’t just $7.95 to buy a new copy. But it does seem to be an intelligent application of the relevant tech, and sounds intriguing. There will be those who snap it up, just ’cause – but Amazon has a long way to go before it is mainstream.

That’s my guess.

As I mentioned in this post back in March, something like the Kindle has been a staple of SF going way back. Way back. But for all our progress in tech to date, I think it’ll be a while before actual paper & ink books are obsolete. It’s a simple matter of economics and risk, as I indicate in that note to my friend above. Joel Johnson at BoingBoing Gadgets says much the same thing in his review – here’s an excerpt:

Although I can hold a $400 eBook reader in my hand, it only feels truly valuable because I have a $7 book inside that I want to read. If Amazon can find a way to lower the barrier of entry on either side of the platform—a cheaper Kindle, or free content—it may then be worth wider consideration.

Bezos might be right, and me wrong. Certainly, I don’t have the track record he does, and haven’t earned the kind of money he has with his hard work and predictions. Then again, he has the wealth to afford being wrong for a long time before he is right, as may happen with this kind of project .

Jim Downey


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There really is nothing like a book — paper and material to make marks on it being, really, the killer app that enabled civilization. Well, going back, wax tablets… and REALLY going back, a system to represent language, which itself became more intricate and complex once there was a system to represent it.

The Kindle intrigues me because of my own changing relationship to the book, and having crossed that imperceptible midlife barrier wherein you realize that much of the written ephemera you’ve kept across the years is just that — ephemera. I’m unwilling to keep more — and a hard-drive crash a year ago reminded me that anything I keep in that medium is disposable, too. I’m simply unwilling to let more books — or saved paper — into my life until I get rid of some.

I’m also just about to reach the finishing point in one of the most enjoyable book-relationships I’ve ever had — the Harry Potter saga. Get this: I don’t own a single paper copy of the books themselves. I’ve listened to them all on audio. Lucky for me the reader is the inestimable Jim Dale, and that J.K. Rowling found him with the first book, and that they felt no need to gussy up the reading with actors and soundtracks and sound effects. They’ve been so enjoyable as audio, in fact, that I haven’t been able to face the end of the series until recently. (Please, no spoilers!)

That’s the real danger, if any, that I see in the Kindle and the overall iPod-ing of literature — that once the means of production and distribution become both easier and more instantaneous, will the quality and staying power of the content dwindle? If your deathless prose doesn’t take a year or six months to edit, proof, bind and print, isn’t the temptation to to take less time crafting it?

I think this is what we’re seeing some places with journalism — a diminishment in deliberation.
Perhaps it’s a parellel to the death of the A&R man in music. And the effect: Lots more music out there, just as much (or more) absolute dreck.

Comment by Susan Clotfelter

That’s the real danger, if any, that I see in the Kindle and the overall iPod-ing of literature — that once the means of production and distribution become both easier and more instantaneous, will the quality and staying power of the content dwindle? If your deathless prose doesn’t take a year or six months to edit, proof, bind and print, isn’t the temptation to to take less time crafting it?

Sue, I think that’s a fair concern, though that argument has been used to just badmouth bloggers and protect the privilege of members of the traditional media outlets. I know I have to remind myself that my blog entries here and elsewhere are not meant to be formal essays, but rather fairly quick reactions to the the world and life. Still, I do try and put some thought and consideration into what I write even here.

So I don’t know. Freeing-up the dissemination of written material is a good thing – now over 6,200 people have downloaded my novel, and that’s likely about 6,175 more than would have seen it if I was just passing it around to my friends. If the same mechanisms at work lead to some types of writing being more spontaneous (and less slaved over), then I think that might be the trade-off we have to live with, and a price worth paying.

Jim D.

Comment by Communion of Dreams

A friend who wishes to remain anon sent me this comment in response to this post, which I thought I would share since it makes some good points:

We live in a world where reading is being practiced less in general (recent Economist stats for the US). TV is being replaced by the PC. And everything has to be portable. The youth of today will drive the trend to replacement of most texts by e-texts. In particular I would expect that college students would rather carry the equivalent dollar value of a back pack of texts as an e-reader device with the attendant reduction in weight and possibly a reduction in the cost of purchase of the academic texts.

In my view, keeping in mind my seclusion from the world 🙂 , the still limiting factor is resolution. What I don’t understand is why the current crop of laptops has not simply shut down the effort to develop a devoted E-reader.

The tactile sense of the book is one of it’s most seductive features – at least to those of us of a certain age. But in the current developed world we have to make a conscious effort to bring that into our lives. More people (US) are forgoing the exercise of preparing their meals with the loss of the contact with the materials in their various states as the become dinner. Most of us long ago gave up the response to actually weaving and sewing clothes. Less people actually play musical instruments.

In the recent Funny Times one of the curmudgeons says something to the effect that, the printing press ruined literature. When books no longer became precious the downfall of meaningful literature was begun.

More junk literature? Perhaps, but I would guess that when looking back over everything that has seen the light of the Guttenberg machine the percent dregs scaled to the population is about the same today. At least for texts composed by people to actually seen as texts and not notes, memos, letters, etc.

Keep’m comin’ 🙂

And if you’re not familiar with the Funny Times, you should be!

Jim D.

Comment by Communion of Dreams

[…] Comics, Humor, Jeff Bezos, Kindle, Opus, Predictions, Publishing, tech Berkeley Breathed echoes my opinion of e-books in today’s Opus […]

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[…] his column at some length, which basically explains the economics of the problem. As I noted in my piece on the Kindle last November: A friend dropped me a note last night, asked what I thought of Kindle, the new […]

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[…] out, I was *very* skeptical that it would replace conventionally printed books. Here’s what I said in November 2007: I think it is still a hard sell. $400 is a chunk for something which only kinda-sorta replaces a […]

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