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?


  1. And #5: gadgets trump people.

    The two ?human? actors are literally pushed off screen by the much smaller (yet infinitely more powerful) Kindle.

  2. I could easily attack the Kindle, but I am partially responsible for the purchase of my sister's, thus it would be hypocritical(not that I haven't been before, just making improvements on my previously published self).

    So I say to you, welcome to the 21st century, not the realtor. And I ask you, is not reading on a kindle worth not reading at all?

  3. Miles, I am not attacking the Kindle in general; I have no problem with the device itself. If anything, though, Kindle is doing the attacking here. It's this particular ad I have a problem with. The ad explicitly suggests that bookstores are lame and makes more insidious suggestions within the vehicle of the ad. Your question is a false dichotomy. My only options are not "reading on a kindle" or "no reading at all." So, I'll keep all my options open.

  4. This seems more like a something out of a Bradburry story than anything else....geez, what's next? Kindle brand Firemen set to burn and destroy bookstores and their books as we know it? Then the real books will become "kindling"....heh

    but seriously, very creepy, and speaks volumes about our society and how far we have progressed with technology and the extent to which we use it in our lives...i personally think there are limits, and certain boundaries shouldn't be crossed, such as allowing technology to do your book "reading"for you. There is something to be said for just picking up a book, flipping the pages, and reading the words, feeling the cover yourself, no impersonality, just the comforting feel of paper and the printed words. it's mortifying to think that one of the few personal comforts we have in the 21st century is now slowly being rendered obsolete....no offense, Miles, but I've always loathed the idea of the Kindle....just find it unecessary and dangerous...

  5. OC, I didn't mean to suggest you were attacking the Kindle but rather I was holding off on doing so. Secondly, my question was not about you, but about my generation instead. Perhaps I should have phrased it better. Isn't it better for younger people, who might not normally pick up a book and read, to pick up a Kindle-something they can relate to-and read on that?