Kindle currency

Written by Jane Harris No Gravatar


As some of you may know I am very much a later adopter when it comes to new technology so it was after much consideration that I decided to bring a Kindle on the trip. Even after I collected it from the Lavender Hill parcel depot the box sat unopened on the kitchen table for days while I debated whether or not to send it back.

In the end I reasoned that a few hundred grams of technology would eliminate the need for me to carry several kilos of paperbacks – including the obligatory Lonely Planet and Rough Guides.

There was also something about the ability to download ebooks on whatever subject peaked my interest that seemed appropriate to an environment in which we would be exposed to new ideas or experiences almost every day.

To illustrate the second of these points … while in India I was reminded of the Bhopal gas tragedy   Had I wanted to find more about the cause, impact and repercussions of that tragedy I could conjure it up on the Kindle.  As it happens, that’s a bad example.  I tried, and there isn’t anything about the Bhopal gas tragedy in the Kindle store – but you get the general idea.

My misgivings about bringing a Kindle, however, go beyond a reticence about technology and a preference for turning pages over clicking buttons. They arise from the fact that carrying a Kindle denies travellers one of the most basic and enduring forms of social currency – the ability to swap stories, albeit in written not verbal form.

Today I found myself wanting to read a copy of “We Should Talk About Kevin” that was sitting on the communal shelf of our homestay.  I could have downloaded the story to my Kindle for the bargain price of £3.20  but I wanted to read THAT copy – the copy with someone else’s scribbles in the margin and a grocery receipt masquerading as a bookmark.  While at the homestay, I devoured it avidly but didn’t feel I could take it with me without offering another book in return.  Money just wasn’t the same. So the story of a school-yard killer will remain, for me forever in limbo on page 78 – unless, of course,  I come across a copy of the book elsewhere.

Which brings me to another point. There’s a certain serendipity in reading only those books that naturally cross your path. Stuart has temporarily abandoned the Stieg Larsson book on his Kindle in favour of elementary mathematics for engineers – because that’s what’s here.  (Our host’s son is in his second year of an engineering degree).  Would Stuart would have plugged “elementary mathematics” into the Amazon search engine?  I don’t think so.  But it might just add to, or at least subtly alter, the way he views, say, the Indian education system or even its economic prospects as a nation.

My other misgiving about the Kindle relates to cost. Our host, Beena, asked how much we had paid for them and we replied honestly.  Now, it wouldn’t be outside the realms of possibility for Beena to buy a Kindle with the money she’s making from our stay alone.  But that money goes to pay for her son’s university course and for a shared room (rather than the more usual university dormitories) in which he can study without “distraction” aka cigarettes and alcohol.  Her daughter (who incidentally spent many hours ploughing through Grimm’s Fairy Stories on Stuart’s device) is an avid reader but is able to get all books she needs from the local government run library.  In this context my Kindle feels like an unnecessary indulgence and, perhaps,for that reason I have tended not to read it on buses or in other public places. I would have no such qualms about reading a paperback.

That said, I have enjoyed my Kindle. I’ve just finished “The Book Thief”, a story about a book obsessed child growing up in Nazi Germany. I’d offer to lend it to you when I get back but …

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