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Hidden danger: The Kindle is a gateway drug

October 26, 2010

The Kindle: A 12-Step app coming soon?

Great news for those who prefer to read their books on an utterly superfluous electronic gadget rather than the apex technology of a bound and printed traditional volume: Amazon has announced it will allow lending on its Kindle device. Sort of. Eventually. Maybe.

The Devil hides, as he is wont, in the details. Lending of titles between Kindle readers doesn’t start right this minute, but “later this year.” Your friend must read the book within a two-week lending period, during which the book will be unavailable to you. You can only lend it once in this or any other space-time continuum.

So I guess it’s best if you have only one friend. Perhaps Hallmark will come out with a new series of “Kindle break-up” cards: “It’s been nice knowing you, but I can lend my Kindle books to only one friend, and it isn’t you. Have a good life.”

Pardon my sneer when I note that traditional bound volumes — or “real books” as we call them hereabouts — come with no restrictions. A good thing, as I have three daughters who I expect to support me in my old age and they are all avid readers. How awkward if I had to say, “No, you can never borrow Super Sad True Love Story. I’ve already lent it to Karla.”

Another shortcoming in the Kindle lending plan: Many of Amazon’s bajillions of titles will not be available for lending. For example, Barnes & Nobles has allowed lending on its Nook reader gadget since the beginning, but of the 272,ooo “paid” titles available on the Nook, only 107,000 can be lent. That’s about 40 percent.

Who determines which titles will be lendable? Rights holders, which is to say in almost all cases: Publishers, who will have exactly what motive to allow someone to read a book for free?

Look, I know the smart monkey loves shiny baubles. I understand the cool factor (I’m a smart monkey, too). Another might be convenience: Yes, it’s easier to tote around a thin, lightweight Kindle than a 1,000-page tome like Stephen King’s Under the Dome.

That argument loses its force, however, when you realize that Kindle functions as a gateway drug: Its users, Like Lance Ulanoff of pcmag.com, tend to be cross addicted. In this story, comparing the Kindle to Apple’s iPad, he admits that he carries four devices: a Kindle, an iPad, a netbook computer and a smartphone.

I don’t think it makes me a Luddite to say: This is insane. Even in the 21st century, who needs such redundant connectivity? And how is carrying around all those whirlygigs more convenient than, say, a phone and a bound book, and maybe a pad and pen?

Not to speak for Mr. Ulanoff, but I can only imagine he and his kind will be relieved when phones, computers and the like give way to intracranial implants. Hands-free, effortless and perpetual connectivity. And if you violate the terms of your  purchase agreement, Jeff Bezos will be able to reach in and yank your latest book buy right out of your head.

Is that a win-win future, or what?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Karla permalink
    October 27, 2010 7:58 pm

    I will NEVER own one of those things! I like actually holding books and the way they smell.

  2. Holly permalink
    October 27, 2010 11:33 pm

    Here’s a dumb question. Will any or all of these e-book readers stand up to a bitter cold Chicago winter? You would assume that the very smart people who make these products would test for that. But my iPod kept freezing up on me last year. This thought occurred to me as I stood on an el platform recently watching a guy read on his iPad. I’ve never had a paperback book freeze up on me or get too cold to handle.

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