Coming To Terms With The E-Reader

By Katy Kelleher

I’ve heard critics of the e-reader mention everything from the death of book publishing to the strain on our eyes as their reasons for eschewing this new technology.  They scoff at the tidy little devices, the Kindles with their bland gray screens and the flashy gloss of the iPad.  They aren’t interested in seeing what should be–in their opinions–carefully tucked away behind a mussed-up cover all splayed out on a screen.  Like all Luddites, they cling fruitlessly to their books and magazines, holding out their paper products for all the world to see.  Look, they cry, I still read, as though the very act of reading were somehow compromised by the lack of pages.

You might wonder why I describe the book traditionalists in such specific yet derogatory terms.  This is probably because I still number myself among the masses.  But I am slowly changing.

The change began months ago, when I received a Kindle as a Christmas present.  I did not fall instantly in love.  There were aspects I liked, but the idea of a little square of plastic replacing all my boxes of books?  Well, that just didn’t seem possible.

However, I am beginning to see the beauty of the Kindle, to understand the allure of reading off a screen rather than a page.  With one click, I can buy the book recommended by an overzealous friend.  My Kindle offers instant gratification–not to mention the ability to read whatever I please (I admit I have more than a few literary guilty pleasures), free from the judgment of the subway-riding populace.

Oddly, my Kindle also has brought me closer to strangers.

We tend to believe in the isolating powers of technology, but recently I’ve come to see that new gadgets can be excellent conversation starters.  And I am not alone in this observation.  Yesterday, The New York Times ran an article suggesting that e-readers weren’t a sign of the impending downfall of human interaction, but rather another way to open lines of communication between strangers.  Furthermore, they argue, e-readers are just plain cool:

“I think, historically, there has been a stigma attached to the bookworm, and that actually came from the not-untrue notion that, if you were reading, you weren’t socializing with other people,” Dr. Levinson said. “But the e-reader changes that also because e-readers are intrinsically connected to bigger systems.” For many, e-readers are today’s must-have accessory, eroding old notions of what being bookish might have meant. “Buying literature has become cool again,” he said.

I don’t know whether my Kindle signals to the rest of the universe that I’m a hip, modern bookworm.  But it could scream nerd for all I care.  I’m slowly evolving from book-lover to simply word-lover, and the change feels great.  So, go ahead, ask me about my Kindle.  Just don’t ask me what I’m reading–it might be kind of embarrassing.

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