The Personality of Books and the Big Problem with my Kindle

Posted on June 22, 2009

I love my Kindle, but there’s one thing that’s...icky, about it.  One thing that confirms all the background fear and dread I had about transitioning from actual paper to ebooks.

The Kindle strips out all the tangible character of a book.  In doing this, it eliminates the mental “markers” I retain about a book after I’ve read it.

When you remember a book you read, you’re of course remembering the content of the book.  But there are also physical markers about the book you remember:

These things all combine to “set” the book in your mind.  These tactile reminders help the book to occupy a place in your head.  They help give the book a personality – a character.

With a Kindle, you get none of this.  The fonts, colors, weight, dimensions, etc. are all same.  One book looks just like another one.

I purchased Wikinomics and Here Comes Everybody at the same time.  I read them back-to-back, overlapping a bit.

To this day, I can’t separate the books in my head.  When I think of a concept in either of them, I can’t figure out which one it was from.  Granted they were about similar topics, but I still think that if they had been actual books made out of paper, each with their own personality, I would be able to isolate them more readily.

Does this mean I got less out of the books?  Not at the time I read them for sure – I remember being glued to my Kindle on multiple airplane trips reading Shirky’s book in particular.  But looking back on them, do they occupy a less readily available place in my mind because of their Kindle-imposed homogeneity?  I suspect they might.

I love my Kindle, and it’s a net positive to own one, but in the sense of what I’ve written above, the Kindle can be a little depressing.  It’s also made me understand that there’s more to a book than just the words in it.  Books have personality – they have character.  And at least some of this is conveyed by things that the Kindle can’t reproduce.

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