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Friday 30th October 2009

I cracked and bought a Kindle, which arrived this afternoon. It's a portable reading device, like an iPod for books. I have been resisting buying one of these, because I think electronic books will probably improve immensely in the next couple of years. But this is an invention I have been looking forward to and something I actually predicted quite accurately in a rare moment of HG Wells style foresight back in the early 90s.
I don't know why I was so sure about it, but I remember confidently predicting to my friends that in the future there would be no paper books, that they would be replaced by electronic versions, although I think I imagined them as Gameboy style devices where each book would be loaded by cartridge, rather than wireless devices that could download books from the ether and hold thousands of them on one small device.
My friends were all convinced I was wrong. "It won't work, because of the glare from a computer screen. People won't be able to read a whole book from a computer screen. It will give them headaches."
"They will be able to invent a screen without the glare," I predicted, "It will look just like a book."
"But people like the way a book works, turning pages, not scrolling down a screen."
"They will make the device so it operates like a book. You'll be able to turn pages on it."
They scoffed. I don't know how I was able to foresee this. My knowledge of computing and what computers were capable of was not great.
"Books will never disappear. People like them aesthetically. They like the feel of them, the smell of them, having them on their shelves."
"That's true," I replied, "We do feel all those things and we will never change. But the next generation won't have that same affection for paper books. They will do things in a different way. They won't have that affection. And books use up a lot of paper, just in ecological terms it will be better if we move to electronic books. It's not like we're going to destroy the books that already exist, but in 100 years time I seriously doubt anyone will be making them any more."
My friends were all sure I was wrong. Perhaps they were right. But what has come to pass is very similar to what I expected, although in many ways even better and more exciting. The ability to download books electronically means massive savings in terms of printing costs, but also more excitingly I think, it means that eventually every book ever written should be available to download. It doesn't need to be in print any more, it doesn't need hundreds of people to want to buy it. And you'll be able to carry around a library worth of books in your pocket. And just download another one in seconds. You'll be able to read that enormous text book that you'd never think of carrying out of the house anywhere in the world. The advantages far outweigh any of the nostalgia we have for paper books. I am a visionary. I feel I should be getting some of the money from the whole industry.
Anyway, I wanted to see the Kindle and try it out and though I suspected it wouldn't be all I dreamed of just yet, I felt that it might be time to give it a try.
It was exciting to see my dream come true and it's a bit too early to give it a full review.
Basically though I think that unless you're desperate to have an e-book just now that it will be worth waiting a couple of years. The Kindle looks weirdly old-fashioned already. It really feels like it ought to work with a touch screen, but uses a quite fiddly 5 way controller, which is perfectly acceptable, but a bit 2005 and there's a small QWERTY keyboard to input notes and search details, which again is OK, but you can't help feeling will disappear in the 2012 version of this device. It's pretty impressive that you can search for a book and then download it without a computer straight into your Kindle. I gave it a go and bought the complete works of Dickens for about $3 and sure enough it was on my device very quickly. But at the moment the choice of books is not wide enough. I looked for a lot of stuff and nothing I thought of was yet available and I believe there's also an issue that some new books which are available in the US aren't yet available to get on the Kindle in Europe. This is something that I think will change pretty quickly, but until you can get more or less everything that is available in a book shop it is of limited use. Also whilst you can download newspapers and magazines, at the moment in Europe you don't get any photos and I wasn't very impressed with the copy of the Times I had a look at. Presently it is more satisfying and easier to have the actual paper in your hands. The screen does read like a book and whilst you have to master the technique of changing page at the right time (I kept doing it a little bit too early, perhaps because as you're reading a book you can read the last few words as the page is turning) and there's an odd little flash of black text as you turn, it is an enjoyable reading experience. It's all grey and white at the moment and it seems likely that a future version will bring in colour for the pictures and photos.
I am glad to have one and hope it might make me read a lot more. It's very light and small enough to carry easily and I think I will have it with me most of the time. But I think it's worth waiting for a while before you get one. It's still amazingly exciting and has terrific potential.
My favourite thing about it was when I first went to the store to see what books the Kindle recommended for me (and at this point I had only pre-ordered the Charles Dickens stuff on my computer - prior to getting the device) and first in the list was a book called, "The Joy of Gay Sex". What did the Kindle know about me? That was quite a bold decision for the first recommend. Was that just down to me buying Dickens (and was there some confusion with dick ins) or once I held it in my hands was it able to gauge my interests? Perhaps it used my whole Amazon history to come to this conclusion (I did buy a lot of books about penises back in 2002 when I was writing Talking Cock). Or maybe the Kindle just knows that you'd have to be gay to want to buy a Kindle. Or maybe only gays are interested in books. But it seemed like a bold choice to go straight in with.
But I respect the Kindle so much that I not only bought the book on its suggestion but also decided to become a gay. Why would the Kindle suggest the book if I wasn't?
So it has already literally changed my life. It could just be an elaborate way of turning the world gay.
I'll let you know how I get on with the Kindle and the bumming and stuff. If it works out for me then maybe it'll work out for you.

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