The next two posts are going to sound like I’ve been commercially got at – but it’s really, absolutely, not true at all.
Firstly, the Kindle. I first had one of these devices in my hands about a month ago. I think it was in our Currys-PC World Megastore. Next to the iPads and assorted Android tablets, it appeared small beer. Someone had connected up to the BBC website using its experimental browser function. The screen reacted slowly, the image was in black and white. I was ready to fall in love with it – but I guess the shop itself was more focussed on shifting glossy white Apples than graphite-coloured e-readers. It was, even so, something I wanted to like the idea of. But there wasn’t quite enough there for me to actually make the leap.
Then it was my birthday a couple of days ago. Happily enough, for a person like myself who has always wished to be known as a professional writer but has never quite managed to get there, I share that blessed date with what’s probably the most significant event of the literary year: Dublin’s glorious Bloomsday of “Ulysses” fame. In my moments of greatest writerly desperation, therefore, I have always consoled myself with this coincidence – and allowed myself to believe that maybe the universe still has other plans of a textual nature.
Anyhow, in the lead-up to this day my eldest son asked me if I wanted a Kindle. I began to internalise the idea and think: “Hey, that’d be cool.” And I started to wonder if via such a device maybe my favourite activity of all – next to blogging – could make a proper and desirable comeback. For I really can’t tell you when with the gusto of my youth I had last devoured a book from cover to cover. The intertextuality of hypertext long ago having consumed me, easing out this pleasurable process of author-led reading.
Instead, I had become yet another victim of the textual violence of the hyperlink; had become yet another victim of the promiscuity of Internet surfing. And, at the same time, those of us who believed we thought about these things truly felt we were creating a wonderfully brand new world where hierarchy correctly folded in on itself and readers began to participate in the very creation of the texts themselves. Jumping from stepping-stone of knowledge to stepping-stone of wisdom, we reaped for ourselves and a wider intelligence only the very best humanity had to offer.
Well. Anyhow. That was the theory. Whatever the truth behind all of the above, I had noticed over the past couple of years how my ability to stick with an author-led text had vigorously diminished. Curiously now, through the ministrations of the Kindle that my eldest, indeed, has ended up giving me for my birthday, I have read more sequential text in the past seventy-two hours than the preceding six months put together. That is to say, I have recovered my childhood capacity to swallow a book whole – and all because of Amazon’s absolutely wonderfully marketed package.
Yes. The ability to download a book wherever you find yourself is marvellous. Adding digital annotations and sharing electronic highlights is very Web 2.0. Searching three hundred pages is so very practical. And reading off a page which is clearer than paper is clearly a game-changer – as well as a considerable achievement. But what I most like about the whole Kindle experience is that in some intangible and inexplicable way it has managed to use digital technologies to turn me away from hypertextuality.
I love the Internet – always will do, of course. But Amazon’s Kindle has reminded me of the simple pleasure of burying oneself in a text – a pleasure I had lost in an online maze of endless restless clicking.
A simple pleasure indeed.
That wondrous permission we readers sometimes choose to offer up to those deserving writers who with their wisdom regale us and reward us.
That beautiful moment when we choose to allow an author the time and space to lead us through their world.
That is why Amazon’s Kindle is worth so very much more than its technology. And why, if you see it in the shops – as you now can – and wonder to yourself what all the fuss is about, you should think very carefully before discarding outright this magical box of tricks.
Paradoxically, the Kindle’s greatest technological achievement is to make us forget the lessons of the past ten years: to return us, in fact, to a world where the hierarchy of writers who narrated tales to a spellbound audience reigned grandly over us all.
Oh, the Internet is here to stay – I’m not suggesting otherwise. All I am saying, I suppose, in reality, is that for many of us out here on the techie side of the web, the Kindle will serve to help us recover a former intellectual glory and attachment to the exclusively written word. All of which explains why I firmly believe that, in both its current and future manifestations, Amazon’s Kindle will ensure the cementing of our relationship with what is now clearly going to be a benevolent hierarchy of literary intelligences.