As a reader stranded on this desolate Jeju island with not enough bookshops, I have inevitably ended up with a Kindle in possession. To be perfectly candid, the small device has proved itself to be invaluable in my life: the size of it allows for portability, the immediacy of purchase makes reading more accessible. All in all, the Kindle was a highly satisfactory buy that I do not regret, despite my previously inveterate love for paper copies. Whilst I still possess the same fondness for paper copies, I must say that contrary to what I adamantly believed, eBooks are proving themselves to be most practical.
Nevertheless, nothing can be perfect. Kindles, too, are far from perfect – and I have a few words I wish to say on this. I find the necessity in pointing out the problems in Kindles not at all because the problems themselves are necessarily a source of great evil, but because I am an evil spirit greatly inclined to share my complaints with the rest of the world. Going into my rather unnecessarily in-depth analysis of Kindle’s faults, I leave the reader with a disclaimer that I am not only a writer who thrives on small bites of critical malice, but also a writer not at all qualified to comment on any technological abilities of Kindles. With this caveat, I shall at last move onto the crux of the matter.
One of the very first discomforts I noticed when I first started reading on my Kindle was the lack of freedom in annotations. The problem with annotations is twofold: speed and format. Admittedly, the Kindle experience is in its essence a slow one. Scrolling takes a few decades, clicking ‘Add Annotation’ takes a million years to load, and typing out each letter takes a painfully long time. In order to add annotations on one’s Kindle, I have learnt the hard way that one must have the patience of Odysseus himself – and patience when tested too much is no longer one’s virtue, but an offence of the other party. Such sluggish speed is not only a problem that mildly annoys the impatient, but a factor that limits the capacity of the reader’s mind. Human minds are conditioned to a rapid stream of consciousness, so if annotations cannot keep up with the speed of this stream it is easy to lose important ideas. Brilliant ideas that come suddenly and disappear just as quickly become ideas never immortalised in writing, all because the Kindle was too slow.
Yet more so than the slow annotation rate, I dislike the format of the annotations. The monotony of the highlights and annotations! This may not be applicable for the fancier Kindles, but my Kindle is presented in a neat black-and-white – and so are the highlights. The one purpose of highlights is to emphasise different parts of the text, with the vibrant colours spotting a few special black-and-white words. It is the warm colour that visualises the reader’s love for a phrase; it is the colour-coding that separates different annotations from one another. What use is the same, cold, grey highlight in this? Where is the colour, the life of the books? The Kindle forces readers to stick to drab greyness that permeates the digital pages with no room for personalisation. I hardly believe every Kindle user around the world most ardently loves the colour grey as much as Kindle forces them to love! To call these ‘highlights’ would be a disgraceful act of injustice to the very definition of the word.
These problems related to annotations are the most superficial of my complaints, and barely scratches the surface. A more serious Kindle-grievance is its encouragement of rampant consumerism. Though some readers may at this point begin to understandably question my self-restraint in buying books, and I would claim guilt to an extent, a good part of the blame does lie in Kindles. Kindles are fundamentally designed for greatest monetary extraction, I daresay extortion, from readers – and it’s not done so subtly either. There are targeted ads, Amazon promotions. It’s there as I browse through the books, it’s there on the lockscreen, an obnoxiously large advertisement, when I turn the Kindle off. I understand, Kindle Unlimited is great! But it is my simple wish to not have advertisements and promotions shoved in my face every time. Admittedly, capitalism is a modern grievance and not necessarily a burden Kindle must bear on its own. So whilst a degree of tolerance for ‘rampant consumerism’ has been inculcated into me, I draw the line when it comes to books. Why must I face modern grievances as I read?
My final point of criticism is Kindle’s insidious breeding ground for mob mentality which goes unnoticed. For many people – including me – reading is a particularly intimate act. Though one may later share ideas with others, the initial reading is often done privately as one is alone with one’s thoughts. Kindle does not allow this. In fact, the reader is forced to share their reading experience with millions of others. It may be a new feature that’s only on the recent versions such as mine, but a single Kindle feature greatly annoys and concerns me. The feature is this: a thin, dotted line appears under phrases that have been highlighted by the majority of the readers. It may seem strange, why such a fine line bothered me. Yet the line symbolises all that is evil about my Kindle experience; it brings out the terrifyingly assimilative and amoebic side of me. My eyes notice that line, my mind immediately jumps to highlighting the passage – how could I think of not liking, not highlighting something which everyone has liked? And obsequiously, I highlight.
Especially in the modern world of Internet and social media, it is all too easy to lose ourselves to mob mentality. Reading was supposed to be the way to strengthen our mind, develop ourselves as individuals. We read for pleasure, we read for escapism – but, most importantly, we read to learn, to grow, to reflect. We read to find and become ourselves. It has made reading another tiring time of being absorbed by the majority, losing myself in a sea of replicas. In this, I thank Kindle for kindly ruining reading for me.
But all this may sound either petty or far-fetched. Whining about not having coloured highlights? A single, dotted line leading to mob mentality? I may moan and lament about these petty features, aggrandise seemingly small evils, but the Kindle has undeniably become a universal necessity for readers all over the world. This is why I believe it is important to realise its failings before it becomes a normalised part of our lives and therefore harder to criticise. Of course, it may simply be that I am an evil woman who relishes in petty criticisms and that last line could have been to justify my hateful speech. My dear Kindle-lovers, you will never know.
Gyuyeon Victoria (Viki) Park