Kindle: Friend or Foe – Vitamin K

He sits on a shelf, as abandoned as any neglected child. Unwanted. Unsupervised. Unattended to. My husband gave me this Kindle more than a year ago at Christmas, no doubt thinking it was a must-have for bookish people like myself. I beg to differ.

As someone who is in the publishing industry and who devours all the news and gossip about this and that, I have to admit that I was indeed looking forward to testing the gizmos of digital reading. Kindle seemed to have a head start in the court of public opinion, gathering momentum as the best one of the bunch. So you can imagine my delight when I opened the box. But you might not be able to imagine the extent to which I’ve cast it aside. And I also have to admit now that I am duly unimpressed with myself and frustrated to the point of guilt. I look at it; it reads (perhaps sobs): “Your battery is empty.” I interpret that to mean, “You are a loser.”

My Kindle nags at me from its dusty, comatose screen. Why do you leave me like this? I can make your reading life easier, lighter, richer. I can go anywhere with you. I can even let you stay up to date with your newspapers and magazines.

To be clear, I didn’t toss him aside the day we met. I excitedly plugged him in, let him come to life, and then bought a few books with his uncanny way of connecting me to this other ethereal world. I kept him at my bedside and made it a goal to read from him prior to turning out the lights. I lasted maybe two days in this forced routine. When the guilt started to creep in and gnaw at my subconscious a few weeks later—in that place nestled snugly in your mind where you keep a running tab of things you should do and things you must do—I recommitted to using him like someone recommits to starting another diet on Monday. I looked at the whole duty as a chore, something that was supposed to be “good for me” but that I really didn’t enjoy all that much. I like my books—my real books. I like the touch and feel of paper, the look of beautiful covers (I particularly like those with textural embellishments—the embossed titles and gold-foils), and the act of thumbing through those smelly pages that are so emblematic of wisdom. I’m among the few people who take on reading like a sport. I tend to mark words and key phrases with a pen or highlighter (which no less has its own deeply satisfying aspect to it). I ferociously flip back and forth on occasion from the index if there is one. I do the old classic “dog-earing” and admire my well-read books perched on my bookcase, especially the ones with the cleverly crafted spines. It’s my library to which no digital library can match. The Kindle simply cannot meet the challenge on any of these needs. It’s too portable, easy, and light. It’s too simple and uncomplicated. And it’s too modern for my old-fashioned tastes. The irony, of course, is that my iPhone has spoiled me with its bright, colorful display and touch-screen—two features missing in the Kindle. So I guess you could say I’m ambivalent.

Last November, brothers Dan and Chip Heath wrote an article for Fast Company that was based on their recent bestselling book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. In it, they explain why it’s not enough to give people something they need, and they present a compelling metaphor out of the difference between a vitamin and an aspirin. They write: “Vitamins are nice; they’re healthy. But aspirin cures your pain; it’s not a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have.” The Heaths compared various products and marketing campaigns to prove their point, and, as luck would have it, they actually covered the difference between a successful book and, well, a dud. A pregnancy-empathy book written for men might seem, on the surface, to have a large built-in audience (millions of soon-to-be fathers). But the Heaths convincingly prove otherwise, as did the paltry book sales. This pregnancy book was a vitamin, not an aspirin (albeit a vitamin that many women would love to cram down their husbands’ throats). Compare that with the mega best seller What to Expect When You’re Expecting, which was written for pregnant women and very clearly an aspirin. Another example: Netflix as a DVD mailer was a vitamin. But Netflix as a late-fee vanquisher was an aspirin. It eliminated a pain.

Which brings me back to the Kindle. It’s a vitamin. At least it is for me. It doesn’t eliminate any pain of mine. I don’t have what the Heaths call a “deep felt need” for it. If anything it only adds to my baggage of guilt and feelings of inadequacy. And until further notice, I think it will remain a vitamin and sit untouched and ignored, like all excess baggage or an unused pack of unnecessary supplements (which I also have in my kitchen cupboard, but that’s another story).