It is occasionally amazing exactly how far we’ve come over the years. It’s an inane observation but not, I think, an inaccurate one. This came to me recently while reading Halting State by Charles Stross. I enjoyed the book immensely and can’t recommend it enough, but it occurred to me about halfway through that much of the “science fiction” being employed was realistic enough to give me pause. Augmented reality glasses, arguably the major liberty Stross takes with real life, are hardly unlikely if Google is to be believed. The idea that technology increasingly mediates our interactions with the world around us brought to mind some thoughts about how the Kindle has changed our perceptions.
The trend toward digitization of print media is ongoing and not isolated to anything Amazon has done. What they made with the Kindle platform, however, was the first real method for instantly accessing any eBook in circulation at a moment’s notice (acknowledging certain exceptions, of course). If you saw an interesting ad, you could grab the book from your phone and have it with you the next time you wanted to read. If somebody recommended a book, you could immediately check the reviews and give it a shot. If a student forgot their book, they could often fix the problem immediately rather than sitting around bewildered.
The effect has been extensive in obvious ways. Libraries are having to adapt to the eReader presence, for example. Not only that, they were in a fair amount of trouble while OverDrive adapted to the Kindle since the vast majority of eReader owners prefer the Kindle platform. Bookstores are feeling the press as well, being forced to compete, choose sides, or go the way of Borders.
The more subtle effects are more interesting, though. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many book stores are having trouble unloading “classics” these days. Where a faux leather cover on a book that was probably never going to be read might have been enough to sell a bargain bin title in the past, customers are increasingly aware that they can have those older titles for free and don’t have the incentive to have them on hand purely on principal anymore.
Reading in public is also becoming more common. It has never been uncommon, of course, but now the ability to read without openly displaying your book preferences makes the Kindle a smart buy for people with guilty pleasures of a literary nature. We’ve seen something of a romance novel boom reported as a result.
There are all sorts of little ways that this comes into play. When you take into account the fact that the Kindle platform is available on any smartphone in circulation at the moment, we’re basically talking about the most wide-spread literary revolution since the move to codex-style books. Maybe I shouldn’t attribute the whole shift to the Kindle, but if you have to put a name to it then Amazon’s product is the one to spring to mind.
Without trying to sound clichéd, any thoughts on how the Kindle platform and eReading in general has changed our lives? I was expecting more from the instant Wikipedia access anywhere that Kindle devices offered so early on, but it seems in retrospect that this was the least profound impact of the lot.