Why buying a Kindle was a huge mistake

Almost exactly three weeks ago, I read MacInTouch’s fantastic Kindle review (thanks to Daring Fireball for linking to it) and it threw doubt on everything I had thought about the Kindle. When I first saw the device and read some other people’s opinions on it, my immediate impression was “eh, kind of cool but definitely not for me.” I simply love physical books too much; I’ve been collecting them since the first Scholastic ordering form was handed to me in grade school. I dream of someday living in a place where one room’s walls are nothing but bookshelves. I may not be a full-blown bibliophile haunting the local used bookstore with a crazed look in my eye, but I’m the next closest thing.

Aside from the MacInTouch review, there were two things that made me sit back and re-eavluate myself as a potential Kindle owner:

  • After a mere seven months of living on my own with some expendable income, I am out of shelf space. Worse, I am out of space for new shelves. And since I need to move closer to the city center, my next apartment will likely be smaller rather than larger. Plus moving the shelves and books that I’ve amassed since I moved in is going to be a heinous bitch in and of itself.
  • At the time, I had a four-day weekend in a cabin in the woods coming up, and for most of my life vacations have meant packing a bag full of books that I then have to lug around with me. I have never enjoyed this, but I read too quickly for one or two books slipped in my suitcase to suffice. Up to 200 books in a device that weighs 10.3 ounces was sounding pretty good (price notwithstanding).

Although it took some intense deliberation, Twittering, and Amazon review-reading, I ended up purchasing a Kindle in time to take it with me on my mini-vacation. I haven’t been that torn over an electronics purchase in years.

And having owned the device for about two and a half weeks now, including four days of hard-core stress-testing in a cabin in the mountains with no cell service or internet (reading inside, reading outside in the sun, reading in the car, reading in bed with few lights, reading for upwards of six hours straight), I have come to realize that buying a Kindle was a huge mistake.

In my first week of Kindle ownership, I read the equivalent of over 3,000 pages, to the detriment of sleep, work, and time with my girlfriend. I’ve been going to bed 1-2 hours later (and getting a corresponding 1-2 hours less sleep every night). I’ve spent in the neighborhood of $100-200 on ebooks (which, given how long I’ve owned it, means almost $100 a week). I’ve gone from checking email and RSS feeds regularly throughout the day to checking them once or twice every two days. Owning a Kindle has in short disrupted a wide range of my daily habits and routines by making it ludicrously easy to read anytime, anywhere, without effort.

Imagine handing a crack addict a $400 device that allows them to download cocaine directly into their brain. That is what owning a Kindle has been like. Although it does not provide the visceral pleasure of a well-designed hardback, it has allowed me to consummate my addiction to the written word in a way that nothing prior in my life has ever approached. Like MacInTouch I’ve found that what looked like a clumsy device in screenshots is actually a joy to use that has obviously received intense attention to its design.

In short, I’m hopelessly in love.

That isn’t to say that the Kindle is perfect, however. Although I’ve grown accustomed to it, the form factor is still something I’d love to see improved. Turning the page accidentally (particularly if I’ve briefly set the device down and am picking it up again) is all too easy. The refresh rate of the display, although fine for turning pages, is unwieldy and frustrating when it comes to looking up words, accessing the internet, or doing anything where only part of the screen needs to refresh. It is very difficult to, say, jump back ten “pages” to review what just happened.

I hope that these flaws are rectified in the next version of the Kindle (which likely isn’t on the immediate horizon), but even all of them combined aren’t enough to diminish my enjoyment of the device here and now. Partially this is because the Kindle is a fantastic and novel service rather than just a reading device. Partially it’s because the reading device is designed well enough that it fulfills its function with style and grace sufficient to outweigh its demerits.

But mostly it’s because my obsession with books is firmly grounded in a much stronger obsession with reading, and the Kindle makes obtaining and reading quality new material as easy as the turn of a page.

Leave a response