How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Digital

15 Jul

The Kindle was my Gateway Drug

It seems there is a schism in the book world of those that are vehemently against eBooks books and all they stand for, and those who love them. I have gone from one side of the argument being a fierce advocate of physical media to being a fierce advocate of all things digital. Here is my journey.

My love for digital really started in July of 2010 with the announcement of the third generation of kindles. Before this announcement the kindles were selling for $259 which put it only in the hands of the most passionate of readers and early adopters of technology. The third generation of kindles introduced a new Wi-Fi only kindle for a reasonable price of $139, which while still a decent sum of money, was now low enough for me to buy it knowing that it might not be for me. When the third generation kindle was released in September of 2010 I was one of the first in line (and by in line I mean waiting by the post box as they delivered it) to get one. I mark the purchase of my kindle as the keystone moment of my foray into the digital world.

I’ll continue discussing my digital come to Jesus moment in full, but I think I need to be a little clearer about my past experience with digital media. I am a millennial which means I have grown up with the rise of computer technology. I have been an active part all the way from DOS and Windows 3.1 to the rise of the internet and smartphones of today. Not only have I grown up with computer technology but I have been an early adopter of technology for as long as I could remember. I had an MP3 player before the iPod even existed, a digital camera when they only held as many pictures as film, and a home computer before they were common place. So it isn’t that I have been resisting digital technology but I was waiting for it to catch up with what I thought it should be. I have had a vision of how I thought digital content should work and it took a long time before the technology caught up to its potential.

Not only did I have an MP3 player before the iPod but I was an early adopter of the iPod itself. When I graduated high school I immediately knew what a big deal the iPod would be and bought one when they used to cost $500. And while I loved my IPod and not only filled it to its once impossibly large 15 gigabytes of space but soon found myself out of space and limited by that once large 15 gigs. But even as my music library became larger and larger it was only from ripping cd’s I owned and never actually from buying that music from iTunes. Digital content in its earliest form was set up for instant gratification one time buying of that material. You only got to download it once and it was basically only useful on that device. I wanted my digital media to be an extensive library that I would have for years to come and didn’t feel comfortable spending the money on the MP3’s knowing that I was only a hard drive failure away from losing it all. Not only that but MP3’s from iTunes were DRM protected and only worked with apple devices, so while it was great for my iPod at the time I was going to be stuck in the apple ecosystem forever. iTunes MP3’s were also often much more expensive to buy entire albums than to buy the CD from best buy or used from half priced books. And I won’t pretend these weren’t the Wild West days of napster which while wonderful also trained an entire generation what it felt like to get any song at any time for free. Let’s also not forget that even today not all artists are on iTunes, and while it’s gotten a lot better from where it started it still can’t be the replacement for all your music needs. iTunes was a good start but and the technology wasn’t there. So while I was very much onboard with digital music I still bought physical CD’s of everything.

So back to my kindle, on that fateful September day my kindle was delivered and things were never the same. I had all ways been a reader but around the time my kindle arrived I had been in a reading slump. I had vowed to never read another book after the last Harry Potter had come out in 2007 and as of 2010 I had kept true to that vow. So when I got my kindle part of me wasn’t even sure if I would even use it at all. I figured spending 140 dollars would guilt me into at least reading some and would hopefully kick start my interest in reading again. Which to my surprise, it did! Not only was I reading again but I was reading all most every single day and I couldn’t be more pleased with my little kindle. I really enjoy my kindle for reading books but I also loved the other features like picking up where I left off from it to my phone, highlighting, and taking notes. I was also traveling a lot at the time and having this huge library of books all in one device was amazing. I had been carrying a shit ton of stuff in my carry on and was able to get rid of most of it and replace it with my kindle. Not to mention a 2 week to 1 month battery life which was not only unheard of but completely got rid of the worry on the thing dying on me mid book.

So somewhere along the way of me just enjoying books on my kindle I had a fundamental shift in how I thought about digital media. As any kindle owner will tell you it’s so easy to buy books that it doesn’t take long to start spending a lot of money on books. Somewhere between my 15th and 100th book I had reached a point of no returned. I was to the point where I had spent about as much on content for my kindle as I had for my kindle itself which was a good time for me to stop and take inventory. It had reached the point where it was no longer disposal money I was putting into this kindle book ecosystem and if suddenly amazon went bankrupt tomorrow I would lose a significant amount of money/merchandise. So I basically had to decide where or not to take the plunge and decide if I had enough faith in amazon and what they were doing to trust them in handling this giant library of digital media for me and basically hope they don’t go out of business or give up on the kindle. We all have to make that choice at some point or another when we buy into some sort of digital media or digital ecosystem. We have to decide if the technology and convenience of using this technology now is worth the risk that it could be gone in the future. I had essentially decided that I was getting enough enjoyment and product for my money now to risk that someday this library I build may not be available. It’s a pessimistic but realistic look at this new world of digital media. While companies like amazon and apple have been thriving now all have been winners. If you had bought into an HP Touchsmart you would have been shit out of luck two months later when they gave up on the system.

The real game changer I think (besides me deciding it was worth the risk) actually came down to my CD collection. It’s easy to say to yourself if I buy this book or CD physically than that’s it, unlike digitally I will have it forever and never have to worry about buying it again. But in reality there can be just as many risks that this physical book or CD I bought today may be just as useless tomorrow. It’s obvious when you think about vinyl records or cassette tapes that as technology changes your once usefully copy of Ace of Base is now just a nice big coaster. Sure you can still play vinyl records today but how often do you really? You may hold out as long as you can but at some point that giant collection of records just becomes useless. We can hope that this copy of Star Wars will be the last we will ever buy but in reality we are going to just keep buying it time and again when the format we watch movies changes. But even besides changes in technology physical media just isn’t as evergreen as we like to think. My massive CD collection is slowly starting to get destroyed due to CD rot. Some of my CD’s literally have holes in them and will no longer play. Apparently it’s normal, CD’s aren’t meant to last forever, they can start breaking down anywhere from 10-30 years. Books are the same way, while they can last hundreds or years if taken care of correctly they can also start drying out, rotting, or get silverfish. No matter how safe we feel physical media is it really isn’t. Once I started seeing my CD’s getting eaten away I was a lot less nervous of going digital than I had been ever before. If even my CD’s aren’t going to last forever I mine as well go to digital which at least won’t take up so much damn room in my house.

Another game changer for me is being younger I have been moving every 1-2 years to various apartments, dorms, houses. Which means that during every move I wind up carrying box after box of heavy ass books from place to place, some of which I have never read but have moved at least 5 times. After my last move I decided to have one book shelf of space and that’s it. If I add a new book to the shelf something else has to be sold or given away but I will no longer collect things I hope I may be interested in later, every book now has to count and be there for a reason. Digital books is not only nice to have when traveling but it frees up so much space. Books are a pain in the ass, they take up a ton of space and I am one that rarely ever re-read books, but I like to know the option is there. I may never actually read that 1,000 page copy of Le Misérables on my kindle but I like the fact that I could and I don’t have to move it from house to house while I decide.

Here are the key ways the kindle changed the way I felt about digital media:

  • The Kindle was Priced Low: I can’t stress this enough. Had the newer Kindle been the same $259 price tag that the Kindle 2 was I would have never bought one. Being $139 it was low enough for me to buy it on a whim knowing that if I didn’t like reading on this new format that I wouldn’t be at a huge loss. Not only that but after spending $259 on the device and then $10 per eBook it would take 52 books before you started saving money if you were assuming physical books cost $15 dollars each.
  • The Cloud: My kindle was my first experience in using the cloud and things haven’t been the same since. I like the fact that I can download, delete, and re-download a book as many times as my heart desires. I’ve gone through 3 phones now and a series of different computers and tablets and its great knowing that no matter what new device I get I can still re-download those books I have bought.
  • Taking Notes: I love taking notes and highlighting in my kindle books. I know most people don’t use this feature but when reading the Game of Thrones series or Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books it was great highlight all the clues that lead to be big reveals later on. My game of thrones books are my own personal notebook keeping track of what’s going on and it shows up whether I use my kindle, iPad, computer, or website to look at these books. It’s fantastic and I am completely jealous of college kids who get to use this technology to take notes in textbooks today.
  • Buy Once Read Anywhere: This has been the philosophy of amazon and kindle from the start and it’s incredibly effective. Unlike the early days of iTunes all my eBook purchases from amazon are saved in the cloud and can be sent to any kindle device or app as many times as I want. This was huge for me, amazon has been smart on this front and put their app on every phone and tablet possible. This gave me a peace of mind that even though I am buying a book from amazon if I decide to go android or apple in the future I would still be able to access all of that media.
  • Lower Priced Books: It’s not all ways the case but in general eBooks cost less than actual books. List price of hardbacks goes anywhere from 15 to 40 dollars sometimes, and while you generally don’t pay the full price at Barnes and Nobel you generally have to pay a lot more than 10 dollars for the eBook. Also fuck you Barnes and Nobel. I never know what the price of anything at the store is, it’s generally not the list price but who knows. The website prices are different than the in store prices so the only way to know the actual price is to go to the store itself and have them ring it up.
  • eBooks Don’t Smell: This isn’t a real reason but I really just hate when people say thing don’t want to give up physical books cause they like the smell of books.

Final Thought

The real key to my conversion and adoption of digital books, music, movies, and now comics has been the fact that no matter how future proof we think it is digital or physical, nothing lasts forever. Books can be destroyed in a flood or hurricane, can yellow and become brittle, or rot and get silverfish. Music and movies can get left behind due to new tech and suddenly unplayable on modern devices. Digital media can suffer from similar fates due to technology or the provider companies shifting focus or going out of business. There are a lot of reasons people are against going digital and security and longevity of the medium can be one of the most problematic. But the reality is that nothing we own is that safe and no matter how much we might think that is this the last copy of Pride and Prejudice we are ever going to buy, it’s probably not.


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