Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sorry Josh, but Kindle isn't the real story

Josh at TPM has been on a tear this week as he's gotten sucked into the Kindle via the Kindle iPhone app. His inner and outer dialog is interesting to me since I can relate, but I see this from a different perspective than he. For the record, two things make me willing to abandon my principle of not giving my money to AT&T. (Well, three things if you count that it's impossible to get an iPhone from Apple w/o opening an account with AT&T). The TED Talks app, and the Kindle app for the iPhone. But this post is not about TED. It's not directly about the Kindle, nor the iPhone either. It's about the aggregate of all of them, and so much more.

The first time I saw a Kindle, I was impressed by the ePaper (non-backlit screen, basically). As a designer whose eyes spend more time looking at a computer monitor than they do being closed, I can appreciate looking at an LCD screen that isn't trying to attach itself to my brain via optic nerves. Interestingly though, Kindle achieves the same result, albeit less intrusively. I like looking at that ePaper screen (at least the text), so the text makes it into my brain faster than the text I read on typical PC monitors. Funny thing, that. Sadly though, as Josh points out, ePaper sucks when it comes to cool illustrations and maps and stuff. To me, Kindle is the ultimate paperback. I am sure this is what Jeff Bezos had in mind all along. If a book requires rich illustrations, photography, maps, and what not, then it must be bought in print. If the book is all about the writing and needs no serious imagery for support, like most paperbacks, then it's perfect for the Kindle. From this perspective, the Kindle is refining the publishing industry, perhaps.

Kindle is not the Harbinger of Doom to books, no more than iTunes was the Harbinger of Doom to radio and CDs and records, and no more than DVDs are the Harbinger of Doom to the theater industry. All have been refinements, or extensions to the long tail. Without going into a diatribe of all things media, I'll just settle on saying that the Kindle is just another means for people to access content in a way they find suitable for themselves individually. There will be some suffering to some along the way; just like automobiles put some horses out of work, and robotic assembly lines took some people out of work, neither presaged the end of the world or humankind (at least not any more than any standard doomsayer of the day at any given period). But who is complaining about not having to follow the backend of a horse for an entire day every other week just to buy some bags of flour and other staples, when they can drive a car across an entire state in the same time? Who's complaing that they can't spend an entire evening scanning a VHS tape for that one particular scene in a movie, when they can now just jump within a few frames of it n DVD? Who's complaining that that can't carry all 5,000 EPs in the back of their U-Haul when they can fit all 10,000 songs in their back pocket... and also take calls, watch videos, play fames, and send emails from the same device?

I feel where Josh is coming from, I really do. As a hardcore Steampunk fan, I relish the tactile feel of hand-crafted objects, and machine crafted objects. But, as much as I appreciate handmade wrought iron nails, I'm sure that if I was a carpenter back in the day when those were the only nails available, I'd be highly appreciative of the machine punched variety we have today. I'd be even more appreciative of a pneumatic nail gun! All the while, I'd still drool over the artisan craft of hand-carved dowel pins used in place of nails.

Shit. I feel like I can go down this line of examples for years... I guess the point that I'm trying to make is that while "progress" often means the "end" of something, that "end" isn't always so bad. I like to think of progress as clearing out the least visually appealing apples, leaving something more standardized and generally more acceptable. Once the undesirable apples are cleared out, and we're producing the kind of apples that Joe Public scoops off the shelves, that leaves the "heirloom" apples to those of us who appreciate such things. Refinement. Why waste small, flavorful apples with slightly discolored skin on those who'd rather eat brightly painted cardboard with a waxy coating?

Seriously. Anything produced for mass consumption is arguably going to be SHIT at the end of the day. Once you average anything against the spectrum of humanity, you can only end up with shit. It is mathematically impossible to do otherwise. So let the average wallow in their shit. There will always be antiques and heirlooms for those of us who appreciate and crave such things. The information will not necessarily be lost, but the transmitters and receivers will change.

Just a slip there using apples as a metaphor, but funny how Apple is so adept at creating just as much shiny, pretty, juicy things as they are with creating utter shit.

Now, when's that iPhone Nano coming out?

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