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Amazon’s Fire: a real damper

Posted Oct. 03, 2011, at 7:33 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 03, 2011, at 8:12 p.m.

Amazon, I have a complaint.

You have a great thing going: Cheap music. Cheap books. Cheap video. And the new Kindle Touch and Kindle Fire tablets? “Premium products at nonpremium prices.” Bravo, seriously.

But look: I love books.

I realize that my function is increasingly as a Literature Cassandra. Every few months, an innovation occurs in book-reading technology, and I come out of the woodwork and wail and tear my hair, like one of those other things that emerges from woodwork at intervals to croak ominously. A cuckoo.

If book-reading technology had stopped at the book, I’d have been fine.

But no. We beat onward, boats against the current, or with the current technology, or something. And it worries me.

I love the Internet. It reared me. It gave me The Talk. Whenever I have personal or professional difficulties, I consult the Internet first. When I have health concerns, the Internet is there to reassure me that it’s probably a brain tumor.

My point is that the Internet and I are already joined at the hip, where I have had my smartphone surgically implanted.

So it does not embarrass me to admit that I’m worried by all these increasingly functional eReaders. The new Kindle is fine. But what’s this Fire tablet, Amazon?

Look, if you put the Internet on the device I am supposed to be using to read, I will never read again.

Can you blame me? I am only human. In the course of writing this, I have clicked away eight times to see if anything happened on YouTube that I should know about.

It’s times like this that I think how delighted I would be if the Internet stopped. “Finally, no Twitter to keep me from reading ‘Madame Bovary’!” I would exclaim.

Then I’d realize I couldn’t access any of the books on my Kindle.

But books are wastes of screens. You give me a dual-processor, Web-reading, multi-tasking wonder-screen for just $199 it would be almost insulting to use it for books. That’s like hiring a porn star to read you the Encyclopedia Britannica. It’s a waste of resources.

And it’s not just screen guilt. We can’t focus, ever. Few and far between are the conversations that are more interesting than the content of our iPhones. And books just sit there, inert. You have to breathe life into them with your imagination. Sometimes there are long stretches where the author goes on a tangent about the nature of memory. For my money, I’d just as soon visit TV Tropes .

And with the Kindle Fire, that’s exactly what I’ll wind up doing.

It’s not that people will stop reading. We do vast amounts of reading online every day, the equivalent of a good Hemingway novel. It’s not deep but broad, not focused but fast. But kiss books goodbye, as generally happens when you toss them into a Fire.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog for the Washington Post, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She joined The Post as an intern in 2010, after graduating from Harvard College.

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