Archive for November 7th, 2011
I resisted buying a Kindle for a long time. Part of it was price, part of it loyalty to the idea of printed books, but over the past few years, my resistance began slowly eroding. The first sign of weakness, mostly innocent in itself, was when I started using the Kindle app on devices I already own, and while they haven’t come close to supplanting physical books in my house, for certain specialized uses, they do have their place. I ended up reading close to half of Swann’s Way in two-minute chunks on my phone while riding the train, for instance, and before my recent move, when I couldn’t justify adding more books to the pile that would soon need to vanish into boxes, I bought several recent releases in digital form. And while I’ve since mostly gone back to printed books, there seems to be room for their electronic counterparts in my life as well—and especially for my wife, who commutes to work on the train every day.
On Friday, then, inspired by the recent price cut, I ordered the $79 version of the Kindle. I was expecting to get it on Tuesday, but yesterday, I heard a mysterious rustling outside the house, and when I checked the front porch, there it was, lying on the welcome mat like an orphaned foundling—Amazon Prime works in mysterious ways. I brought it inside, turned it on, and with considerable anticipation, tried to link it to my existing account. And tried. And tried. Because no matter how often I entered my username and password, I got nothing but an error message. The same thing happened when I tried to register it online. And the instructions onscreen were frustratingly vague, with a menu of options that changed from moment to moment for no particular reason. (An aside to Amazon: just because Apple can ship its products without an instruction manual doesn’t necessarily mean that you can do the same.)
Finally, after half an hour of fruitless effort, I gave up and called the customer hotline. After speaking briefly with a representative at the help desk, who seemed equally mystified, I was transferred to a “Kindle specialist,” who after forty minutes of remote tinkering told me that the Kindle would have to be returned and replaced by another. Why? For unknown reasons, it wasn’t syncing correctly with Amazon’s database—she claimed to have never seen anything like it before. I grudgingly agreed to await my replacement. Then, a few minutes later, she called back to say that she’d tracked down the source of the problem: the Kindle had been delivered two days early, before the shipment had even been reflected in the system, so I was told to sit tight, keep the Kindle plugged in, and hope for the best. (Amazon Prime is often bewilderingly fast and awesome, but in this case, it evidently tore a hole in the space-time continuum.)
At last, more than six hours after my initial call, I received an email telling me that my Kindle had been properly synced. I checked it, and it worked. Within a minute, I was playing with it, sort of happily, and yes, it’s a nice little device. Yet my feelings toward it have been somewhat soured by the experience. Books, after all, aren’t supposed to be a mystery: once you’ve learned how to read, they’re an invisible medium, with as little mediation as possible between you and the author’s vision. The Kindle strives mightily to recreate that seamless experience, but even at its best, it isn’t quite the same—and when it falls short, it falls hard. When printed books fail us, as the one we love best inevitably do, they fail in tangible ways: the spines crack, the pages yellow, the margins are discolored by handling. A failed Kindle, by contrast, is just a hunk of plastic. And while my Kindle misfire was eventually solved, I can’t help but wonder if the universe, in some small way, was trying to send me a message.