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The Kindle and Cultural Display

By Matthew Yglesias  

"The Kindle and Cultural Display"

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I’ve said before that thought I love my Kindle, it deprives me of the signaling fun that comes along with reading traditional books. I’m going through Infinite Jest, as are a lot of people this summer, but I can’t visibly display the book on the Metro or around my house. James Wolcott has a good essay on this:

Books not only furnish a room, to paraphrase the title of an Anthony Powell novel, but also accessorize our outfits. They help brand our identities. At the rate technology is progressing, however, we may eventually be traipsing around culturally nude in an urban rain forest, androids seamlessly integrated with our devices. As we divest ourselves of once familiar physical objects—digitize and dematerialize—we approach a Star Trek future in which everything can be accessed from the fourth dimension with a few clicks or terse audibles. Reading will forfeit the tactile dimension where memories insinuate themselves, reminding us of where and when D. H. Lawrence entered our lives that meaningful summer. “Darling, remember when we downloaded Sons and Lovers in Napa Valley?” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. The Barnes & Noble bookstore, with its coffee bar and authors’ readings, could go the way of Blockbuster as an iconic institution, depriving readers of the opportunity to mingle with their own kind and paw through magazines for free. Book-jacket design may become a lost art, like album-cover design, without which late-20th-century iconography would have been pauperized.

Now I’m pretty sure the world will survive this transition. But it’ll be interesting to see how it happens. I note that one thing a lot of people, myself included, sometimes do is use the Adium feature that automatically sets your IM chat status to the title and artist of the song currently playing on your iTunes. One way to think about that is as a substitute for the old game of visually displaying the physical records or CDs you own in your house. It’s a way to turn your music consumption into something quasi-public. Perhaps reading books in groups and writing blogs about what you’re reading will be the new way to share your cultural consumption with the world.

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