Kindle vs. Book: ReKindling a love of literature, or just a novelty novel?

KINDLE by Joseph Cardle

Whenever I’m at parties, which I’m often not, I tend to get asked what I think of the Kindle. Probably cos I’m an English student or something. I think it’s brilliant: easy on the eyes, surprisingly robust and accommodating of my unfortunately quite fat thumbs.

I say this and, in response, I tend to get a rant about feeling the weight of a good book, the excitement of turning a page and the physical existence of language. Probably cos they’re an English student or something. And while, yes, I would miss those things, I think I would miss trees a little more.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, 60,000 square kilometres of forest is cut down every year. That’s roughly the size of Ireland. That’s more than three billion trees. Per year. That is insane. That is literally the world being insane. An estimated 43% of those trees are used to manufacture paper. When you consider how much paper was required to shift 200 million Dan Brown atrocities, that all starts to sound quite gluttonous.

What’s more, the Environmental Protection Agency reports that the paper making industry is far from a clean one: every year, millions of pounds of poisonous chemicals – such as toluene, methanol, chlorine dioxide, hydrochloric acid, formaldehyde and, of course, carbon dioxide – are recklessly farted out by pulp and paper mills all over the world. Aside from choking us all to death, these emissions add to the ever-growing problem of global warming and climate change, which, in turn, is making our planet steadily less habitable.

Adopting digital book formats, of which the Kindle is the best by far, is a relatively painless way to reduce the amount of trees getting cut down and the amount of toxic stuff getting into your nostrils. This is to say nothing of the fact that it will make books, magazines and newspapers cheaper to produce and buy whilst offering amateur authors an easier way to get noticed and make money.

I fear that, one day, we may end up like Saruman from Lord of the Rings, merrily cutting down Fangorn Forest like there’s no tomorrow, then acting all surprised when the trees turn up and throw rocks at your house. It’s cos you didn’t get a Kindle, Saruman!

(NB: I am fully aware of the irony, thanks.)


BOOK by Julie Shennan

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it: that’s my philosophy on reading from books. Yes, Kindle may be a novel gadget with bright leather covers and swanky software, but novelty does not equal durability, as any Blackberry user will testify. On the contrary, smart gadgets rely on humans to charge and repair them. This dependency means their systems can crash at the worst possible moment, like the night before a big deadline, leaving users distraught.  All this considered it’s a wonder anyone would leave their books to the mercy of IT.

This rhetoric may not concern techies, who are well equipped to fix their own Kindle, but that doesn’t mean they can relax. If they were to relax, say, in a hot bath with a good eBook, and some water sloshed their Kindle, they could lose their whole library, rather than just their page. For this reason I’d imagine Kindles are banned from most bathrooms.

On the other hand not many people read in the bath these days, in fact some only pick up a book when on holiday.  Yet, even enjoying a book on the beach is complicated with a Kindle, as it is susceptible to sand damage, overheating or being stolen as you swim.

The temptation to thieves that a Kindle presents also raises the issue of inequality. People will always want what they don’t have and feel inadequate because of this lack. A book used to be something affordable, which united students through common experience. Under Kindle books have become accessories to a status symbol, more likely to divide classrooms than enhance them.

That said there are texts available on Kindle which are not in student libraries, although it could be argued this reflects failing of institutional resources, rather than success of the tablet.  Though Kindle does offer access to more allusive texts, it is not the simple study companion that a book, journal or article is. You cannot photocopy a kindle page, or make notes in its margin, or earmark the pages you wish to reference back to.

At the end of the day, after working for hours in front of a computer, I’d much rather curl up with a book.

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