An antidote to Kindlemania

This morning’s Observer column.

A strange thing happened at Christmas. Well, two really. reported that its Kindle eReader had become the “most gifted” product in its vast inventory; and on Christmas Day sales of eBooks on its site exceeded those of physical books. The phenomena are, of course correlated: all those recipients of Kindles needed to buy something they could actually read on the devices. But the combination of the two ‘facts’ has further ratcheted up speculation that 2010 will be the Year of the Kindle and the end is nigh for the printed codex.

If you detect a whiff of what philosophers call ‘technological determinism’ in this, you’re in good company. I have on my shelves a (printed) copy of The Myth of the Paperless Office by Abigail Sellen and Richard Harper, a wonderful antidote to the irrational exuberance of Kindlemania. The authors conducted an ethnographic study of how people actually use paper in order to reach an understanding of which of those uses might conceivably be eliminated by electronics, and which might not. It should be required reading for anyone showing the early symptoms of Kindlemania…