My wife bought me a Kindle when it first came out. While I’m an early adopter of new technologies, gadgets and services (or at the very least, keeping a close eye on the more intriguing ones), I wasn’t anxious to get one. I had the same beef with DRM on books as I did with music. Information wants to be free, etc, etc… you know the deal. I thought it looked like a well thought out product (and product ecosystem), but it wasn’t for me. It would be another year before Apple would announce an end to copy-protection on their music, but it had also been a year since Steve Jobs posted his Thoughts On Music on Apple.com. So I was mentally primed for a DRM-free (music) future. Then the Kindle comes along with their copy-protected media and we’re back to square one. I wasn’t naive to think they’d use open file formats, but I was still bummed. Now let’s fast forward 2 years to today. I still have my first gen Kindle and I still use it somewhat often although I usually prefer to use the Kindle app on my iPhone, especially during my day-to-day commuting on the Manhattan subway. But my Kindle still can’t do two things that are important when I read – scribbling down notes and flipping pages. These actions were important while I read the new book by Steve Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From.
Some might look disapprovingly at image above, with all those crude lines and chicken scratch writing, but for me, being able to underline chunks of text, scribble notes and circle words I want to look up later opens up a deeper level of comprehension into the book I’m reading. Of course this method can be adapted with an e-reader by simply pairing it with a physical notebook, but it’s a little more effort and not well-spent effort. I’m not a psychologist but something about physically interacting with a book takes reading beyond simple consumption. It becomes a form of creation. By the time you reach the end of your book you’re not left with the same pages you started with. No, no … these are my pages now. Sure, the author is making his points, but I’m deciding which ones are important. Once I’ve read through and made sufficient notes I can begin the fun game of flipping back and reading over the passages I marked up.
This might seem like a minor point, but the fact that I can’t easily flip between pages on a Kindle is a huge frustration. No, this doesn’t mean I’m not able to remember what I’ve read, but sometimes I want to reread passages. Great books, like great movies, are meant to be read over and over (unless you’re satisfied watching a Kubrick movie once). I’m completely confident this technological limitation of e-books will be resolved but until then, my thumbs rule.
This is more my beef with the airline industry than with e-books, but it’s relevant to this post. If we’re going to live comfortably/efficiently/normally in the 21st century, we need to start adapting our procedures to technologies and devices our generation is creating. Gadgets like iPods, iPads and Kindles are useless if I’m not allowed to use them during takeoff and landing. I’m waiting to hear of a plane that went down because 5 or 20 or 50 Kindles or iPhones were on during takeoff. It’s very likely many people never turn off their devices when they’re instructed anyway (not me of course). So to recap, I’m not giving up on technology. I love technology. I love tinkering, hacking and experimenting with new gadgets, but I encourage everyone to grab a printed version of the next great book you read. Don’t be afraid to get dirty and really make it yours.