Saturday, June 11, 2011

How to Read the Kindle

I just watched a horrifying commercial from Amazon.  Here is the commercial and then a short reading of that commercial:

As the narrative opens, a young man stands holding his Kindle.  An attractive woman walks out into the tablua rasa white space of the advertising world (and is it possible to read that as anything other than the intellectual vaccuum in which they both live?),  and asks, "Hey where are you going?"  When she invites him to the bookstore to get a book that "just came out," he declines.   (Apparently the book's not the only thing that's just come out).   He is ordering a "new book" on his Kindle "in less than 60 seconds."  "Oh my god," she responds, "That's the book I was going to get."  Wow.  What a coincidence!   The commercial ends with her reading his Kindle, while shushing him with a warning finger.  Here are some secret messages the commercial contains: 

1.  Speed is good.  Would downloading the book be worth the wait of, say, 3 minutes? 

2.  Novelty is also good.  The book both people want is brand-spanking new.  That it's a best seller is implied by the new-ness and the fact that they both want it.  (Fun fact:  "best sellers" are determined by books pre-ordered, not books sold.   Their label is a self-fulfilling prophecy).

3.  The world and the people within it are things to be avoided.  There is literally no world in the commercial.  The actors provide the only clue we are viewing a 3-D space (though, ironically, the actors themselves are decidedly 2-D).  Bookstores are things to be avoided.  So, too, are people apparently since the the two actors are looking at the screen and not each other as the commercial ends.

4.  Words are bad.   The commercial script segues into a non-verbal cue from the woman telling the man to shut up, followed by airy and mindless la-la-la music without actual words.

The book that both actors want desperately to pick up (and not necessarily to read) is Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken.  The book came out last year -- 18, 489, 600 seconds ago -- and was, you guessed it:  a New York Times best seller and a "make book" from Amazon.  It was their "book of the month" and a book they have tried in other ways to "make" you buy.  An odd and dated choice to display for a TV ad you wonder?  I think the ad people are trying to market this device to non-readers, a demographic they are not only appealing to but also helping to create. 

I'm not anti-technology.  (In fact, I am typing these words on a computer).  I've just never seen Amazon so nakedly attack bookstores, community, personal contact, and words themselves.  Bookstores are vanishing rapidly and funding for libraries is always under threat.  Outside of schools, what public spaces will allow people to gather, to read, to talk, and to think?