Here are the two things Amazon Kindle can do for me, and I think it's possible it can do them for you, too: Over a period of time, I think that Kindle can make me smarter and richer.
No. I don't think that.
What I do think is that Kindle can make me less stupid and less poor.
Bold claims, perhaps, but I've got little reputation to defend, so who cares? Let's have another: I believe that Kindle reminds most people of an Etch-A-Sketch and inspires a powerful urge to shake it vigorously, like one would a hastily removed jacket with a rodent -- a varmint -- in it.
What happens when you shake a Kindle? I don't know and I don't want to find out. Frankly, the little machine makes me nervous like a smart friend does, and as a rule I never shake my smart friends. On to the facts:
When I received Kindle, I opened it and found what appeared to be mostly recyclable packaging -- great. I have no use, of course, for the instruction manual, so I leave that in the packaging and turn the slim, white machine on. It's very thin. I could hand this to my friends or my parents or just about anybody and feel confident that they could read with it -- it might be easier to use than an iPod (but, importantly, it's not easier to use than a book).
In almost no time at all, I've figured out how to navigate it with the thumb-roll thing and I'm in, yes, the Kindle Store. I have (hypothetically) bought Kindle for $349 and I must now (hypothetically) buy something else -- a book, a magazine subscription, a blog subscription.
Here already is how it passively makes me smarter and richer.
I'm a little behind in my technological consumerism. I was supposed to -- supposed to, as though compelled by some unseen force -- buy some righteous-looking video games a while back, but I was learning, which is expensive, so I didn't. So, when I got out of grad school, I looked forward to picking up an Xbox 360, which is just a fancypants way of playing slightly-changed versions of video games I've been playing since 1992.
The hardware would cost me -- thanks to a recent price reduction -- $299. Kindle costs -- thanks to a recent price reduction -- $359. Easy call so far, right? Video games beat e-books. But video games themselves cost a ton, maybe $59 a pop. Books on Kindle cost around $10. So $450 could score me an Xbox and two games or a Kindle and nine books. Spread that over a longer term and I don't have to argue the money point anymore. I give up on the Xbox for now.
As for becoming less stupid, it depends a bit on my book selection, I guess. As long as I read halfway-decent books, I'll at least feel smarter than I do after a three-hour video game sit-down (not that there's anything wrong with sitting down for video games for a few hours).
But my book selection depends, too, on Kindle's book selection.
It's the weakness of Kindle.
I'd never read The Hobbit before, so I searched the Kindle Store for it. It wasn't there. Maybe my search was glitchy? I searched "Tolkien." Just books about Tolkien. I tried a nonfiction book I'd been meaning to read, The Predators' Ball by Connie Bruck. No dice. I handed Kindle to a co-worker who searched for David Sedaris. He found a few titles, but not as many as he'd have liked.
These are not obscure titles. It's not like searching Netflix for Koyaanisqatsi (which they have).
Publishers don't always have the electronic or photo rights to all of their books, so in a few cases publishers are not able to participate. We expect this to change as more and more publishers consider these issues when they negotiate rights for their content.
Makes sense, but it doesn't stop me from going to a bookstore -- yes, one outside my house -- to buy The Hobbit. (I really did this. Like, really. I left my desk and went outside and....)
What can you get on Kindle? Well, plenty of things. New York Times Bestsellers, for example.
You can get Right Is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe, by one Arianna Huffington. You can get two books by Dan Solin, who writes insightful, reasonable investment blogs for us here at Huffington Post Business.
You can get 16 magazines. You can get 21 newspapers. You can get 370 blogs (including The Huffington Post's feed).
But the selection experience for me was marred by having to zip past my first several choices. Later searches, with my expectations lowered, resulted in finding things I was looking for -- Mark Haddon, Haruki Murakami. Lots of Murakami.
You can also email your kindle text files and Word docs, and there are sources of e-books online in these formats.
The screen, the use-in-public, the staring, the sex appeal
I won't spend much time here. The screen is readable. It's readable in average light, in better-than-average reading light, in bright light. Trust me, it's readable, and at greater lengths of time than you think it's going to be.
The device is easy to hold, comfortable to hold and I read the Wall Street Journal on it several days in a row, holding Kindle in my right hand while holding a subway pole with my left, on the way to work in the morning. The newspaper-reading experience is satisfying, and the environmentalist in me was thrilled about that.
Of course, people stared on the subway. Some people pointed. The wireless connection -- for use with the store or downloading the latest issue of magazines or newspapers -- works most anywhere a cell phone works. I downloaded a newspaper on an above-ground platform in the little time before my train came.
Oh, and there was no sex appeal. That was a misleading sub-head. Sorry. I just rode the subway and looked like a nerd who didn't know how to spend his money. There's more latent animosity toward e-books out there than you'd think.
About the name
Amazon refers to the Kindle as Kindle. To be clear: It refers to Kindle without an article. Therefore, it is proper to say "I am playing with Kindle," which unfortunately sounds horribly improper. "I am using Kindle" is hardly better. "I am learning Kindle." No. "I am Kindling" means something else altogether. So: "Kindle and I are reading." I say, if you're going to sound off, sound way off.
I like the device. I think it's cool. I wish there were more magazines and more books to choose from, and while that's not Kindle's fault directly, I'll cite my roommate's (admittedly unreasonable) initial reaction:
"Wait, isn't it made by Amazon.com? Dude, it's Amazon.com. They can do anything. What the hell are they doing? What do you mean you can't get Tolkien? It's Amazon.com" and so on. (By the way, have you seen "Epic 2014?" That's what he reminded me of.)
I... don't think I'll buy one. Not yet. But if I have to move again and get rid of my small library or tote books across a thousand miles or so, Kindle might be in my future.
FINAL SCORE: FOUR OUT OF FIVE LEGO-LOOKIN' FUTUREBOOKS
or EIGHT OUT OF TEN BOOKSHELVES I CAN USE FOR SOMETHING ELSE NOW