Sunday, June 21, 2009

In Which I Purchase Modern Technology And Am Duly Impressed

You may have noticed that I just got an iPhone. No? Well, now you have, because I'm blogging about it. After having tweeted, texted, emailed, voice-messaged, and talked about it.

I bought the 3G S to replace my old cellie, which was so old that the camera used iodine-sensitive silvered plates and mercury vapor. And man, is my sexy new iPhone awesome. But the feature that has absolutely sold me on it was the one I least expected: using the thing as an e-book reader.

It never occurred to me that I might like e-books. I mean, I have shelves and shelves of real books. I have stacks of books by the bed, by the couch, in boxes in the garage. I like the physicality of books, the smell and the feel of them. I don't like reading on my computer: I'm constantly fiddling with the text size or shifting about to rest a tense neck. So I had no interest in an e-book reader.

Until I accidentally got one.

The first thing I did when I got my new phone all charged and activated and set up was what every new iPhone buyer does: head to the App Store. Scanning the the free stuff, I see the Kindle for iPhone app. What the hey, right? A few moments later I'm browsing the Kindle store, looking at the freebies. Fusty public domain stuff mostly. A fantasy novel about dragons fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. Pass. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Meh, though I feel vaguely guilty for not being more interested in reading it. Then: Conrad. Wodehouse. Chesterton. Well, well. I never did get around to reading Nostromo, it'd be nice to have some Jeeves stories for amusement while stranded in waiting rooms and such, and I lost my copy of The Man Who Was Thursday....


(That's the sound data makes as it flies around, in case you were wondering.)

Neat. That was quick.

I continue futzing around in the App Store: Sudoku! New York Times crossword puzzles! After evaluating the use of the device as a mobile gaming platform (ie, crashing on the couch and doing sudoku and crossword puzzles all afternoon) I remember the Kindle thingie.

About forty-five minutes later I look up from "Jeeves and the Hard-Boiled Egg". It had taken me less than a minute to configure the thing: white text on a black background; large, easily readable type; landscape mode. It weighs less than a paperback: this is what got me. One-handed reading! Go ahead, snicker, and no, I haven't yet downloaded The Story of O. But It's really COMFORTABLE. I never expected that. Reading in bed without a book-light is a life-changing experience.

But more importantly it addresses an issue I have always struggled with: I scan. I read fast and spottily, and though I grasp essentials I am rarely fully engaged with the text in the way a responsible reader should be. The brevity of each screen of text on the iPhone encourages me to read more closely.

Now, we'll see how well that theory works when I read something a tad more challenging than the tales of the cheerfully hapless Bertie Wooster. I just got Bertrand Russell's The Problems of Philosophy, so that'll be the test case. I hear the Kindle isn't necessarily the best e-book reader for the iPhone. So we'll see where this goes. I'm hesitant to actually PAY for e-books, though. I'd like to see publishers develop a model where the e-book version comes automatically with the paper version. That's a publishing model I could get behind: that way I've got the "back-up" for the shelf and the convenience of the e-text. But it seems like there's a wealth of free stuff out there to read in the Kindle format. And that scratches that Pokemon-like itch, too: it's a thrill to zoop a buncha free classics, knowing that they're there in your pocket all the time. Gotta zoop 'em all...

And I find it pleasing to put the highest-tech device I've ever owned to such a low-tech use.

Here's a brief summary of what I DON'T like about the iPhone: surfing the Internet, that fiddly virtual keyboard, the fact that with 3G enabled you can actually SEE the battery charge indicator dropping in real time. Pretty much the same complaints everyone else has.

On the whole, though, it's a happy-making wonder of a device.

UPDATE: OK, I totally snagged the book about the dragons who fight Napoleon.

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