You probably already know that new Kindles are coming out in November. Sorry Amazon, but I still haven’t changed my mind about them. Actually, Nick Carr’s yeoman’s work on this new batch of toys makes me want to double down on my previous position, adding a very important new reason to the litany I already had. This is from Carr’s first post on the subject from after the announcement last week:
With the Fire, as with its its whizzy-gizmo predecessors, the iPad and the Nook Color, we are seeing the e-book begin to assume its true aesthetic, which would seem to be far closer to the aesthetic of the web than to that of the printed page: text embedded in a welter of functions and features, a symphony of intrusive beeps. Even the more restrained Kindle Touch, also introduced today, comes with a feature called X-Ray that seems designed to ensure that a book’s words never gain too tight a grip over a reader’s consciousness.
Carr elaborated in a later post:
When Amazon delivers a copy of The Remains of the Day to your Kindle, Bezos goes on to explain, the company “has pre-calculated all of the interesting phrases” and turned them into links. My, what a convenience! As a reader, I no longer have to waste a lot of mental energy figuring out which phrases in a book are interesting. It’s all been pre-calculated for me! Here we have a preview of what happens when engineers begin to recreate books, and the experience of reading, in the image of the web. The algorithmical mind begins to run roughshod over the literary mind. Needless to say, there are also commercial angles here. Clicking on an “interesting phrase” will no doubt eventually trigger not just Wikipedia and Shelfari articles but also contextual advertisements as well as product recommendations from Amazon’s store. Removing the edges from a book also serves to reduce friction in the purchasing process.
Of course, Amazon wants to bring all of this pre-calculated historical goodness directly into your classroom. While reading new Kindle coverage, I noticed that Amazon has opened an e-textbook rental business. Lovely. When profits are on the line, why should they care what the professor actually wants?
At $199 for the Kindle Fire, a program could pre-load all course video (including lecture capture recordings), and other rich media directly on the device. At $79, it might make sense to deliver course readings (from monographs to articles) on a pre-loaded Kindle.
That’s right, apparently the professor won’t just be push-button in our new tech-driven future. They’ll be push-button and fully portable.
I hear that one of my illustrious colleagues has already banned Kindle books in her class because they don’t have page numbers, which means that they can’t be footnoted. That’s a good reason. However, what really gets to me is the thought of everyone in my discussion bent over their various devices, some reading along, others reading the distractions that Amazon has embedded for them, while others still check their Facebook page. A Kindle is no different from a laptop or a cellphone. They’re all equally distracting.
Telling college students to bring Kindles to class is like giving guns to criminals and telling them not to stick anyone up. You might as well tell them it’s OK to text all through your lecture because the effect will be the same.* This is the latest in a long line of horror stories that UD has dug up:
In one class I decided to count how many different people were messing around on their laptops, or other electronic devices, or doing anything else that was a distraction from the lecture. Almost everyone did something distraction worthy, which made it entirely too easy to tune out the professor.
With new technology becoming more readily available for consumers, students’ attention spans are dwindling. One student cleaned his presumably new iPad for a solid three minutes, and the device was not even turned on. Some people surf the Internet during most of the lecture. Technology makes it easy to not pay attention.
My brother once told me that there was a device they sell in Europe that can disable a Wi-Fi signal anywhere within fifty feet. I think it’s time to ask him about that again. Perhaps I can buy them in bulk and sell them at a discount across campus as a public service.
* By the way, this goes just as well for professors. If you’ve looked around during conference presentations lately and seen too many audience members playing with their phones, you are not alone. It’s human nature, not something unique to 18-22 year-olds.