Kindle Redux

By Joe Moore

kindle One of the most popular topics on the Kill Zone blog (besides the ongoing strength of the paranormal genre) has been the Amazon Kindle e-book reader. Kathryn wrote about it here and here; John G also had things to say here, and Michelle commented on it here.

After so much talk about the Kindle, I started asking myself if an electronic device could actually take the place of printed books anytime soon. The way I see it, the biggest hurdle that the Kindle and similar devices have to overcome is the technology itself. A book is probably the most ingenious storage device ever invented. Why? Because the basic format has not changed in thousands of years. And hundreds of years from now, someone can pick up a book printed today and read it. There’s no guarantee that the technology supporting the Kindle will last a decade, much less a millennium. What if batteries are suddenly no longer made to power the Kindle? What if the format is no longer efficient to archive the written word? What if a new device comes along that holds a thousand times more data at a fraction of the cost? What if it simply isn’t manufactured anymore and you still have one that needs servicing.

Can that happen? Remember 8-track audio cassette tapes? Betamax? 78 RPM phonograph records? VHS? It’s even getting hard to find a CD anymore now that iPods and MP3 has come along. How about CRT video monitors? Anyone you know still have one now that the cost of LCD flat monitors are approaching the price of a tank of gas? Seen any standard definition, 4×3 aspect ratio TVs in the stores the last time you shopped? If the device that’s needed to play the media is not preserved along with the media, you’re out of luck. There’s no chance of that happening with books because they are their own storage device.

But before we cast judgement on e-book readers like Kindle and say they’re a passing fancy that will quickly go the way of the rotary dial phone, let’s revisit a few pieces of innovation from the past that didn’t catch on at first.

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”
— Western Union internal memo, 1876

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
— Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

“640K ought to be enough for anybody.”
— Bill Gates, 1981

“But what … is it good for?”
— Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
— Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

“The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?”
— David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s

“The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible.”
— A Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith’s paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. (Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp)

“So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we’ll come work for you.’ And they said, ‘No.’ So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ‘Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet.'”
— Apple Computer Inc. founder Steve Jobs on attempts to get Atari and HP interested in his and Steve Wozniak’s personal computer

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.”
— Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899

Can you recall something from your past that you rushed out to buy only to outlive its function and usefulness?

11 thoughts on “Kindle Redux

  1. Nice post, Joe and I love those quotes!

    I’m more of a wait and see type person. I don’t have a fancy new TV (of course, we still have the most basic cable, too, that only costs us $13 a month) and our desktop computer doesn’t have a skinny monitor, either. (I do have a laptop, but nothing fancy.) I always figure that whatever product I’m interested in will be cheaper the following year. I probably miss out on a lot of things that way!

  2. Not electronics, but back in the
    70’s, I remember buying some kind of spray-in hair cleaning product called P-s-st!. Later on I learned that it was better (and a lot cheaper) simply to wash my hair.

  3. p.s. my problem with almost all newfangled electronics is that they seem to break within a few months. My daughters have each gone through iPods, earlier versions of eBook readers, etc.. So I’m very cautious before plunking down money for some of these things.

  4. Joyce, I’m the opposite of you. I like living on the bleeding/screaming edge of technology. It’s got me into trouble a few times, but I love the thrill of being the first on the block to have the new Purple Widget thing. Guess I’ll never learn.

    Kathryn, I remember that stuff. There was a dry powder hair wash, too. What were we thinking?

  5. “Can you recall something from your past that you rushed out to buy only to outlive its function and usefulness?”

    My second wife comes to mind. I didn’t buy her, but she definitely outlived her function and usefulness, and cost plenty. 🙂

    I have two primary objections to Kindles and their like: I read off a screen all day at work and while writing already, and if I lose the Kindle, I’ve lost off those books. If I lose a book, it’s just that book.

  6. My husband is an early adopter. We have a 10-foot diameter Satellite dish in our back yard to prove it. Also a laser video disk player and all 12 movies that were ever produced for it.

    Love the quotes, Joe; I collect “bloopers” like that. Some of these are new to me and will be added to my list.

  7. Absolutely, so many things. Mostly technology oriented, since they become outdated so quickly. I remember when I tried to resell my 5 year old Mac, and the guy at the computer store said I’d be better off turning it into an aquarium.
    One thing though, Joe- I might be wrong, but I thought that unless a book is printed with special ink on acid-free paper, it probably won’t be legible in a thousand years. Or even a few hundred.
    But then, I am Ms. Gadget…great quote!

  8. You’re probably right, Michelle. I guess my point being that all things considered, there would be no need for any special software, hardware, or anything else for someone in the future to be able to read a book printed today.

  9. I’m a luddite through and through but I did have a Handspring PDA when they first came out with a nifty MP3 add on that carried about 5 songs. When my husband discovered post-it notes on it though he deemed thaat the electronic PDA was not for me! I also have many many embarassing make up items from the 1980’s – like colored mascara for hair – I had like every color but when you used it it just looked like paint! I also had diamante encrusted stick on tattoos…enough said really…

  10. But Michelle, with the way all things are made now, especially electronics, I can’t imagine any Kindles you buy today are going to be around in a thousand years either. Or even five, come to that.

    Planned obsolescence, that’s the ticket.

    And Kindles really aren’t recyclable.

    But man, they’re useful on long trips, especially when you have weight and space restrictions.

    We have people who come into the shop looking for books on cassette sometime. Just imagine how tough those are to find any more. We can’t get ’em, that’s certain.

    I resisted getting a CD player because I wanted my best friend to SWEAR it was the last invention I was ever gonna have to buy. She outmaneuvered me, though. Still, at the time, I really meant it.

    Thank you for the quotes!

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