Thursday, April 15, 2010

Kewl is not better

Like it or not, the iPad is selling like hot bread.

Sigh. Just because things look cool, it doesn't make them good. For example, somehow it's a good thing to carry 1000 books in our pockets. What's the point, since we cannot meaningfully deal with even 5 serious books at a time? Moreover, 25% of Americans don't read books at all, and the rest reads about 1 book a month. Are Kindles or iPads worth so much just to read 1 book a month?

Really. Let's say that you read 15 books a year. If you buy them electronically, then you lose the rights to the works you bought (because e.g.: Amazon decides to delete the book you bought from your device). Also, assuming you buy new books only, you might save something like $150 on the books. However, you have to spend $259 on the device. The device which, by the way, will become obsolete in about the time it takes you to save enough on new books to justify buying the device. If you bought used books instead, or got the books free from the library you already pay for, it would be even more cost effective. But, in this way, you give your money away in exchange for an unnecessary and counterproductive luxury. I see. Incidentally, if you are a book author dealing with even mildly sophisticated matter, have you noticed you can't really format your book to look nice on an eBook device?

Also, we won't "facilitate" the distribution of knowledge just because a particularly efficient middleman enters the marketplace. In other words, people won't read more just because it is possible to get books more conveniently. After all, before the Internet was publicly accessible, you could just go to a library and read whatever you wanted to your heart's content. And yet, it hardly ever happened...

“As my wife once remarked to Vice President Al Gore, the “haves and have-nots” of the future will not be caused so much by being connected or not to the Internet, since most important content is already available in public libraries, free and open to all. The real haves and have-nots are those who have or have not acquired the discernment to search for and make use of high content wherever it may be found.” --- Alan Kay

When devices make information readily available to us, they also interrupt us more frequently. Hence, these devices that offer you things you don't really need serve as a pervasive source of distractions that work against you accomplishing anything meaningful. Why check email every minute? Do we really need to engage in SMS traffic like crazy? Twitter? Really? Have you tried achieving something difficult with so many things requesting your attention?

To me, the real problem is the sophistication of the audience. Alas, it takes hard work to become "sophisticated" (as opposed to "trivial"), and we don't really promote that personal and instrospective work as much as we could. If we did, perhaps more of us would create things, or perhaps more than ~5% of the population would be technologically inclined, or perhaps more of us would be "haves" as per the above quote, or perhaps we would have more of an appreciation for non-trivial results (e.g.: the iPhone application that allows you to "make music" by blowing on the microphone while touching the screen as if it was a flute... if you really want to "make music" then get a real music instrument or, failing that, whistle). In short, more of us might decide to stop amusing ourselves to death. And then, maybe then, we would have more of a say (mod e.g.: using a GPL OS). Until then, I think we need an updated version of the below quote...

"It's the movies that have really been running things in America ever since they were invented. They show you what to do, how to do it, when to do it, how to feel about it, and how to look how you feel about it." --- Andy Warhol

Reminds me way too much of the jobs Brave New World's "A people" had... basically, to manufacture a phony reality for everybody else.

4 comments:

Rich said...

Three points:

1) Just because you don't like a product, doesn't make it bad. I, personally, don't have any use for forklifts. That doesn't mean I should criticize someone else for buying one.

2) If you're buying an e-book reader to save money, you're doing it wrong.

I mean, it's like criticizing someone for buying a car because the money they'll save on bus fairs will never justify the car's cost.

In both cases, you're trading cash for convenience. If you don't understand that, you don't understand the products. I don't mind taking the bus to work. Someone else may not mind routinely carrying around 3 or 4 heavy books. Different people will make different choices based on their own values, wants and needs.

3) The internet divide is less about access to information than it is about access to services. Every day, more and more activities are moved online: shopping, paying bills, looking up public transportation routs between unfamiliar points, even scheduling doctors appointments. Having an internet access will allow you to get more done faster and usually cheaper than before. This is a competitive advantage that public libraries just cannot match.

I mean, let's face it. If you're lost, would you rather have a GPS enabled smart phone with access to Google maps, or a library card?

-Rich-

Andrés said...

Ok, so out of this public explosion of everything made easy, where are the 10% of the population that can really apply changes to these technologies that (they allow to) rule their lives? Because, mind you, only 5% or so of society can actually do that.

My point is that all this stuff made easy does not necessarily result in true progress, but rather in a series of glitzier things that in the end do not offer help (in and of themselves) to those that face e.g.: how to develop the OS that drives the thing.

Now, regarding your points,

> If you're buying an e-book reader to save money, you're doing it wrong. [...] Different people will make different choices based on their own values, wants and needs.

Ok great, then allow me the same right you want me to give others so I can have my own opinion :).

> The internet divide is less about access to information than it is about access to services. Every day, more and more activities are moved online: shopping, paying bills, looking up public transportation routs between unfamiliar points, even scheduling doctors appointments. Having an internet access will allow you to get more done faster and usually cheaper than before. This is a competitive advantage that public libraries just cannot match.

Oh come on, what does a library card, which is basically a key to the knowledge accumulated over thousands of years at great cost, have to do with menial tasks that people accomplished just fine 50 years ago? Nonsense, I don't agree. I think it's much easier to jot down two pieces of paper, assuming you can't remember.

Also, the internet doesn't allow me to look at e.g.: ACM papers, because ACM wants me to pay them. But I already paid the library to have copies!!! Nonsense.

> I mean, let's face it. If you're lost, would you rather have a GPS enabled smart phone with access to Google maps, or a library card?

Oh my god, I am lost and I do not know how to get directions anywhere! Gasp, I might have to talk to that gas station attendant that doesn't have money to buy an iGetMeOutOfHere!

:)... big deal. Now, how about an iPad with which I can do *whatever* I want, no strings attached, and nobody censors what I might want to do with it? That's different. And that's not what you got anyway.

Andres.

Andrés said...

In short, when you buy these things, sometimes you end up getting a huge button that says [PUSH ME]. You don't get to say which button you get. You don't get to say which buttons you get. And you don't get to put in your own buttons. All you can do is whatever somebody thought you should be allowed to do.

No thanks. I don't need anybody telling me how to spend my precious time.

Kirtai said...

You don't buy an ebook reader to save money. I got mine and will be getting an android tablet shortly because of one single reason: space.

I own literally thousands of books, they take up more space in my house than all my other possessions combined. Ebooks take up negligable space by comparison, hence I'm switching over to them.

Used books take up even more space and library books aren't mine. I tend to need them when I don't have them.

Different people have different requirements and to some of us, the cost of these items is worth the benefits. I'm certainly willing to pay for an ebook reader or tablet in order to free up many cubic metres of space in my home. My female friends are happy to pay for gps mapping tools in order to avoid having to stop to ask for directions in unsavoury areas where they'd be at risk.

By the way, I bought my ebook reader early last year when things like the iPad and android tablets were not even rumours. Today I'd get a tablet instead but that simply wasn't an option then.