The juggernaut of digitisation has brought many technological alternatives to everyday items. Smart watches are now the default in comparison to analogue. iPads and Apple Pens have become a stand in for pen and paper in classrooms and lecture theatres all over the world. So too have books been met by a digital counterpart: the Kindle.
Since its release in 2007, the Kindle has become a popular Christmas gift item for both children and adults. The Kindle has brought so much convenience to readers’ lives, giving them access to an entire library in one slim, portable package. But can the Kindle act as a complete replacement for books?
I received my very first Kindle this past Christmas. After years of swearing that I could never read on a screen or give up the smell of a brand-new book, I caved to convenience. I got a Kindle Paperwhite, one of the most popular models, which has adjustable screen lighting, a ten-week battery life, and enough storage to hold thousands of titles.
Unlike phones, tablets, and laptops which emit blue light through a backlight, newer models of Kindles have a front light. This means that the light is pointed towards the screen rather than towards the reader’s eye. I was apprehensive, until I got my own Kindle and found that my eyes did not strain like they would if I was looking at a screen.
Apart from physical features, Kindles also have lots of experiential features. You can annotate, highlight, or look up words by tapping on them. You can also link your device to a Goodreads account to help you keep track of what you’ve read throughout the year, a comforting thought for bookworms who set themselves high and ambitious reading goals each year.
However, it’s important to look at what the reader misses out on by opting for a Kindle over a regular book. While reading on a Kindle helps you get through books faster, you miss out on the satisfying feeling of sticking your bookmark at the halfway point of a long book (or dog-earing the page, if you’re that way inclined).
One of the main reasons that I wanted a Kindle was to save space on my shelves, but on the other side of that, I also miss out on curating a physical collection of books that I love. I read Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love last year in paperback format and immediately passed it onto a friend, who then annotated it with her own thoughts and sent it back to me. You can’t do that with a Kindle.
There’s no denying that buying books in Kindle format is a much more cost-effective option; Kindle eBooks range from €0.99 – €5.99 and you can also avail of Kindle Unlimited for €11.75 per month, giving you access to an unlimited number of books. However, it can’t mimic the joy of wandering around a bookshop and stumbling across a random book you end up falling for.
As the old saying goes, you should never judge a book by its cover. But as humans we are constantly stimulated by visuals, colours, and illustrations, meaning that most people are drawn to a book by its cover design. While Kindle shows you the covers of books, they are in black and white, so they don’t have the same visual appeal. In my own experience, I rarely stumble across new books on my Kindle and I instead use it to read books that I already had on my “to be read” list.
As is the case with most modern iterations of technology, there’s a price to be paid for convenience. A smart watch will never mimic the aesthetic appeal of an analogue watch. An Apple Pen will never replace the satisfying ink scribble of a pen and paper. A Kindle will never truly match the satisfaction of walking to a bookstore and serendipitously stumbling across a great new read to add to your collection.
The great thing is, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. The Kindle is a great tool for readers but physical books will always be there when you want to escape the world of technology and truly immerse yourself into a new place.