In case you've been wondering why you love books, Jeff Bezos has the answer: They're so darn disappearable! "I love slipping into a comfortable chair for a long read," the Amazon founder confides on the site's front page today. "As I relax into the chair, I also relax into the author's words, stories and ideas. The physical book is so elegant that the artifact itself disappears into the background. The paper, glue, ink and stitching that make up the book vanish, and what remains is the author's world." Bezos doesn't exactly go so far as to say "the toxic paper, smelly glue, carcinogenic ink and treacherous, throat-encircling stitching," but he might as well have. In introducing Amazon's new Kindle e-book reader, Bezos essentially tosses "the artifact itself" over the side of the boat.
Credit where it's due: When a guy like Bezos puts the shiv in, you barely feel the sting. Look at the phrase The physical book is so elegant that the artifact itself disappears into the background. It's a beautiful argument, in a way: The book itself is so functionally perfect that for all practical purposes it disappears. Therefore, was it really necessary in the first place? Probably not, the thought goes: What you really want is the content, not the wrapper. With Kindle in hand, "Whether you're lying in bed or riding a train, you can think of a book, and have it in less than 60 seconds." (This represents a pretty optimistic read of the EVDO technology the thing runs on, but never mind.) I'd always wondered why books are so cumbersome to use, and now I know: It's that endless walk to the bookcase. Jesus, no wonder I'm so tired all the time! It's the books' fault!
I yield to no one in my love for new gadgets. (I've written about my Jones for early adoption here and here.) And I guess it's not impossible I may end up lusting after the Kindle, too. But there's something unattractive about Amazon's introductory strategy. Bezos is like the guy who dumps his longtime girlfriend for a younger, prettier girl, and then braces you at a party to bend your ear about how homely the ex was. (Even though you didn't ask.) "Kindle... won't get between you and your reading," Bezos says, sidling up to you in the corner by the bar and smirking in a self-satisfied way. "I think you'll also be genuinely amazed by the convenience of books in less than a minute."
Sounds... What's the word I want? "Specious," I think. But the dictionary's all the way across the room.
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