Thursday, March 29, 2012

Me, my Kindle and a brave new world

I spotted yet another friend recently enjoying themselves with their latest high tech toy – a shiny new e-reader. I figured it was about time I joined the club. After doing a little research online, I started checking out demo models at various retailers.

I was excited about the gadget, but all the demos – at least initially – had me stepping back a step or two, wondering if a new model would be as slow, tricky and bothersome as the test model. Then I checked out a Kindle at my neighborhood Target.

The clerk actually seemed to know something about the product and the slim and sexy model on display had me at first blink! The Kindle demo showed off the basics, then allowed me to take a quick test drive. A half hour after walking into the store, I sauntered out with my new toy, anxious to tap into Amazon’s kajillion books and begin life as a digital reader!

And that’s almost the way things played out, except for the little detour I was forced to take on the information highway when Amazon decided I already had an account and sweetly demanded I tap in my password. An hour later I was still trying to tap in my password; I had forgotten it and my best efforts to create a new one failed – many times.

Finally, after momentarily thinking I just wasn’t meant to be part of the 21st Century, I came across a user’s phone number, managed to reach a real person who managed to solve my problem in, well, about five minutes. Go figure.

So this has been my experience. The Kindle is pretty and pretty intuitive to work around. Downloading books literally only take a few seconds. One tap and you’re reading; another tap and you’re turning a page. Tap yet again in the right space and you can change the size and font of the type – a really good feature, especially for those of us with oldish eyes that get tired after a few hours of reading.

There are menus that allow you to maneuver easily through books, the reader and the Kindle store. After playing around a bit with the controls, I downloaded “The Hunger Games,” the bestseller that has just shown up as a blockbuster hit at my neighborhood multiplex. Perhaps it’s just the novelty of the Kindle, but it seemed I was zipping through the book much faster than if I’d been holding a paper version in my hands. I polished it off in two days.

Now the downside. Not much to report, but there are some problems. The touch screen –at least the model I have – needs a little work. Every so often when I tap to turn the page, it jumps ahead a page or three. Because there are no page numbers, I’m not exactly sure how many pages I need to jump back. There is no heft, no pleasant sense of accomplishment as you turn a page or polish off a chapter; no idea really of how much has been read and how much remains – the Kindle does tell you what percentage of the book you have completed as you read through it.

These issues are a problem only because I’ve spent six decades holding books and turning pages. I’m thinking that in another week or so the need for tactile feedback when I read will be going the way of the dinosaur; which brings me to the last – and biggest problem.

Publishers of e-books have yet to catch up with the new technology. In the past, when reading a book, I might come across one, maybe two typos. In the e-book I’ve just started – “Voyage”, by Stephen Baxter – I’ve spotted at least a couple dozen typos, and I’ve only just begun the novel. It feels sloppy, cheap and the mistakes are really distracting. I though perhaps I’d picked the one book that was poorly handled. But, no, apparently publishers are simply not up to the task yet of digitalizing their products.

I’ve got to believe that all this sloppiness will soon go the way of the dinosaur also. After all, if I can be pulled into this oh-so brave new century, certainly book publishers – who’ve watched their mega-stores close and their revenues plummet –can clean up their act and meet me half way.

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