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Three Arguments against the Kindle

From Micah White at Adbusters:

Argument one: The Kindle destroys the trace of the author. After the death of the individual author, books continue to live. They carry the trace of the authors life and thoughts on the page and show this trace through the physical existence of the book. If you hunt for books in bookstores instead of libraries, you may not realize that every age has bound its books differently, used different papers and inks and decorated the page in various ways. The materiality of the book gives us a taste of the author and the time when the book was made. Each book is different and an avid reader can often remember the color of their favorite book or the feel of its pages. The Kindle destroys this because it divorces the text from the book. It displays every book the same. While the text on the screen may changes the physical object in one’s hands stays the same. This has some troubling consequences for our relationship to the author’s words because what the Kindle really displays is one long book — simply a long stream of endless, digitized words.

Argument two: the Kindle destroys the community of readers which books engender. The Kindle has been devised by a society that wants to make profit each time a text is read rather than each time a book is purchased. In the old system, once I bought a book I owned it as an object. I could read it as many times as I liked and give it to friends who may give it to their friends. That is the basis behind public libraries, we all share books because we understand that there are more books we’d like to read than we’d ever be able to afford to read. This creates a community of readers who circulate books amongst themselves for the benefit of all. The Kindle is the end of that, no more sharing books, no more public libraries, no more sitting in a bookstore and reading a book without buying it. The Kindle is a prison for words.

Argument three: the Kindle denies the call to deep, meditative reflection. Books have a magic power in that they can draw us into the world of the author and make time pass quickly while we are immersed in the text. The book is the ideal format for presenting complicated, philosophical arguments that require the reader to pause between paragraphs and reflect. The Kindle is the opposite — it is merely a television for reading text, a computer that will distract us. Furthermore, the adoption of the Kindle will destroy the culture of reading that sets aside sacred places for study: libraries. The Kindle makes these special places unnecessary because it argues that the library will be carried in our pocket. But with the loss of quiet study places for the public will come the loss of the public’s capacity for quiet study. This is why some commentators have already reflected that the Kindle is best for trashy novels. But if the Kindle becomes widespread, all we will have is trashy novels.

The Kindle is the devil.


  1. Derrick wrote:

    I hate the kindle too and agree whole-heartedly with all the critiques. I have the hardest time concentrating on lengthy texts if I cant hold, smell, and probably tear to pieces a tangible book in my hand (blog length posts are about the extent I can tolerate on my computer screen ;) But before we lambast it out of existence I have heard the kindle (and other devices like it) have been a boon for quadriplegics because of its ability to download and read aloud texts on demand, and I believe (though havent confirmed) that some are capable of voice-activated software which allow a hands free interaction. While they are, in any normal circumstance a pox, it seems like a small sliver of good has indeed come from them nonetheless.

    Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 11:37 am | Permalink
  2. Hill wrote:

    Argument 4: It’s dumb.

    Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 11:38 am | Permalink
  3. Hill wrote:

    Argument 5: Books are awesome.

    Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 11:38 am | Permalink
  4. Hill wrote:

    Just to be clear, I do not intend even the slightest bit of sarcasm in the above comments. My first reaction upon seeing/hearing about the Kindle was “I do not want that” which probably has something to do with the fact that I am an uncritical and unreflective bibliophile. I don’t even care if I ever read them (although I do enjoy reading them). I just love books.

    Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 11:41 am | Permalink
  5. Dave wrote:

    I’ll add my voice to the chorus of agreement, and say that I had the exact same reaction as Hill when I first saw this thing on Amazon.

    Actually, I lived in a house with about 25 or so undergraduates last semester in England, and this kind of a conversation came up a few times, and it seemed unanimous except for one person that the something like the Kindle can’t hold a candle to an actual book.

    I think it is an example of technology that de-humanizes and abstracts.

    Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 11:48 am | Permalink
  6. N. Dan Smith wrote:

    Three Arguments against the book:

    1. The book destroys the oral story-telling culture.

    Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 9:05 pm | Permalink
  7. N. Dan Smith wrote:

    The kinde also employs lots of digital restrictions management to keep you from sharing and to keep you vendor-locked. It’s just dumb to put your literature in Amazon’s basket.

    Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 9:07 pm | Permalink
  8. Argument Six: Halden has a book fetish.

    Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 11:57 pm | Permalink
  9. bonnie wrote:

    The Kindle is wonderful for those who serve overseas and do not have ready access to English-language books. For those who like to read but live in the middle of places like Russia or Central Asia, easily being able to download books is a tremendous, wonderful blessing.

    Friday, April 24, 2009 at 9:06 am | Permalink
  10. Chris wrote:

    Argument 1 does not resonate with my experience. It is true that every age has bound its books differently. Why can we not look at eReaders like the Kindle as our age’s way of binding books? It has not been my experience that the look, feel, and smell of the book has much affected my relationship to the author’s words. I’ve felt just as engaged with the author’s words on my Kindle as I have with a book in my hand.

    Argument 3 is just plain stupid. I can and do reflect just as deeply and as meditatively with the Kindle as I do with paper. His argument against the Kindle is that “[b]ooks have a magic power”? Seriously? To say that the Kindle is just a computer screen to distract us has not been my experience. In fact, I am less distracted in many situations with the Kindle (in bed, for example).

    I got a Kindle as a gift about a month ago. I like it…a lot. I’m not a full convert, by any means. It has its limitations (Argument 2 and the second half of Argument 3 are among the limitations). But some of these arguments, to say that the Kindle de-humanizes and abstracts, to call it a pox, etc. are unfounded. It is true that I could be getting into bed with the devil (Amazon, not necessarily the Kindle itself), but it is my hope that the Kindle and other eReaders will loosen the tether to Amazon. I’ve purchased two books from Amazon and downloaded several others elsewhere.

    Friday, April 24, 2009 at 12:25 pm | Permalink
  11. L wrote:

    I am a bibliophile; however, since I am also an academic, my research requires me to hunt for dozens of hard-to-find (and rather expensive) texts of literary criticism. The Kindle is actually opening up new worlds for academics who would otherwise not have access to a cheap copy of an $80 text that has only been printed 100 times in a particular language. Amazon has started to make these texts available in an affordable format. While I understand that the physical book is itself representative of culture, history, and language, there are times when asking someone to track down and/or purchase rare academic books is just too much. (Though some of us enjoy the “thrill” of the hunt, others just want to get their conference papers written!!) I truly don’t believe the actual book will die anytime soon — the Internet didn’t replace it, and I don’t think the Kindle will, either.

    Sunday, April 26, 2009 at 3:24 pm | Permalink
  12. Chris Zodrow wrote:

    Nah. Your thesis is way too extreme. It is romantic, but incredibly bourgeois. Besides, the Kindle really uses ink, not an RGB screen. You can change the typeface to fit your reading comfort. Also, you can make and save endless annotations. Have you even tried one?

    Consider this: poor folks, in countries without the luxuries of a library. Kindle opens up a world to them. I have a missionary friend in Uganda who labors in the mountains, teaching English and training pastors. They have no access to the luxury of libraries. Sending hard-bound books is economically prohibitive: the cost of transport alone is ridiculous. However, they have internet up there (some government program thing).

    Kindle is here to stay, but this does not mean the destruction of printed matter.

    Monday, April 27, 2009 at 9:30 am | Permalink
  13. roger flyer wrote:

    Me like electricity better than candle!

    Monday, April 27, 2009 at 5:02 pm | Permalink
  14. Scott wrote:

    I 2nd Zodrow’s comments: Like the Kindle, books are also a “technology” and thus the “organic” romanticizing seems a bit overblown. Arguments against Amazon/DRM aside, digitizing should improve accessibility, usability, portability, distribution, and archiving.

    Not to mention that a large number of theological/academic books I’ve read do a pretty poor job with typography (crappy typefaces, poor leading) making it a lot harder to read.

    And then there’s also the problem of boogers.

    Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 7:46 am | Permalink
  15. Navi wrote:

    hmmm.. I get just as sucked in reading books on my ipod touch as I do other books. It’d be better if the screen was a bit bigger. oh, wait, a kindle is like that. Though if turning the pages flickers like the sony ereader does (played with one at target) no thanks, I’ll stick with my ipod touch or put my tablet pc in tablet mode… I like the idea of free internet on the kindle, I’m sure that’ll get killed soon though… And honestly, most of our books are paperbacks and the kindle includes images right? so basically it’s only destroying the physical form, not so much the look. and our library often has to bind books that get damaged so they all look very much the same. so the argument is imperfect.

    Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 7:55 am | Permalink
  16. Navi wrote:

    oh, and libraries do offer kindle books for check out… so like, they can adapt to the format. You’ll just have to go to the library instead of borrowing the book from a friend.

    Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 7:56 am | Permalink
  17. Meg Stout wrote:

    I bought a Kindle 1 when the Kindle 2 was released -

    I like the free (if limited) internet connectivity I get where ever cell phone coverage exists.

    I like being able to read other writer’s book drafts without burning trees or sitting in front of a computer.

    I like being able to download the beginnings of books for free when I’m commuting or on travel (and purchasing the ones that catch my fancy).

    I like how the Kindle 1 lets me use SD cards, so my “memory” is effectively limitless. (This is also a method for “sharing” books, which is probably why the new Kindle doesn’t have this feature).

    I like that I can have my entire family (up to six people) on a single account, so we can buy once, use many (at least across six platforms).

    I like how my access to an author’s work no longer requires all the shipping and damages associated with a paper book (although we still buy paper copies of books we know we want on our shelves).

    Friday, May 1, 2009 at 4:35 am | Permalink
  18. Eric wrote:

    This is an odd article. White starts out okay – saying the Kindle is not a book. A bit banal, but true. And he has given three arguments about why this is the case. But surely his arguments don’t “strike the essence of the Kindle” (whatever that means). And I find it hard to believe that somebody who recognizes that the Kindle isn’t a book would at the same time call the Kindle “merely a television for reading text.” Seriously?

    Friday, May 22, 2009 at 12:56 am | Permalink

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