The packaging is unassuming—a low black box with a single beveled facet. But the promise encoded in the tablet inside is prodigious! Up to 1100 books stored and on demand in the device; these having been downloaded from that cosmic brain otherwise known as the Cloud almost at the speed of light.
Books are now tantamount to information. They are no longer classified as transitional objects, at once consolidating our particular Being-in-the-world and leveraging us beyond what we were. Books stream into my Kindle™ as quickly as my credit can flow from my Mastercard into my Amazon account. My reading addiction, my flight into the spaces of fiction, poetry, and discourse, is henceforth spared any withdrawal symptoms. The Cloud, activated by my credit, instantaneously gratifies my needs for information and captivation. This model of addiction- treatment/gratification—implanted electronic “substances” activated by cash or social agency, is just on the horizon.
My Kindle™ will save me. E-books are, strategically, cheaper than their material simulacra. As I approach an inevitable move to smaller quarters, it will save me from boxing cumbersome used liquor cartons and U.S. Postal Service bins (on loan!) to the next dwelling. My analog books bear a weight that is somewhat more than metaphysical. I realize this every time I move. I have supported my personal writing-habit by doing this rather often. The volumes are weighted down, ever so slightly, by the ink with which I have obsessively annotated them—more heavily depending on how much they matter. It’s the very nature of the topoi whose page numbers I catalogue to reproduce into more. I wish I could tell how much that index-ink adds to their weight; I wish I could punch in that algorithm.
My Kindle™ is a preemptive remedy against further bibliographic weight-gain. It should bring acquisitions in the fiction section of my library to a grinding halt. Also in the social sciences and history, cultural as well as political. This may be quite another matter vis a vis those works of theory and philosophy that end up reformatting, even if incrementally, the way I think. Reference works, on the other hand, books needing to be thumbed, will continue to dog me—on the way to their inevitable dog-ears. First acquisitions on my Kindle™ include Karen Tei Yamashita’s Through the Arc of the Rain Forest, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, Daniel Kehlmann’s Fame, and the 2013 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market. The prestidigitation required to make the Writer’s Market a go in tablet format remains ahead of me.
I am, in the acquisitions department, more of a browser than a collector. Yet the admittedly permeable sub-sections of my library surely predicate my future buying patterns. There are even algorithms informing both of us, my partners at Amazon and Netflix and myself, which books and DVDs I’m likeliest to order next. Also precise data on how my fellow citizens reacted to them. Vis-à-vis my most colorful and still-gripping moments of acquiring books and DVDs on Amazon, I think I’ll pass.
So too on the travelogue of the places I’ve lugged my computer and other electronic equipment. Though I can’t resist relating what it was like in 1985 carrying our first portable, a TeleVideo TPC-1™ powered by a WordStar™ knockoff, to southern France. This particular CP/M machine weighed in at 29 lbs., but fit comfortably in the airplane overhead luggage compartment. Securing an internet connection and residuals making the hookup physically possible was a Cook’s tour of French social infrastructure. Riga, Naples, Danzig, Moscow, Florence, Basel—I’m glad we didn’t try them. The succession of ever smaller desk-models and then laptops eventually supplanting the TeleVideo is history—indeed the history of record as of the current juncture. The histories of culture and thinking as measured, precisely, in miniaturization, memory-storage, and modes and degrees of simulation.
The boutique in Williamsville, NY, where I acquired the TeleVideo™ was quaint. It hailed from a day when neighborhood mom and pop stores could support their owners and employees by distributing and servicing computer models and games. My cognitive map of Buffalo still lights up with the locations where I could acquire such Commodore 64™ classics as “Aegean Voyage,” the memory of whose primitive graphics and special effects can still get a giggle out of me.
That age was over when I first glimpsed the Apple Store at 67th and Broadway in Manhattan. The effect was—sorry to date myself while I aim for compression—psychedelic. The scene was in an uproar because one of the first iPhones™ had just come out. I couldn’t see any of my old cronies amid the crowds pouring out onto the adjacent sidewalk. Had I braved the queue, there wouldn’t have been any bargains to haggle.
I own an iPad™ by now, but my mean, lean reading machine, a transitional object I can take in bed in bed with me, remains my Kindle™. It begins to evoke the warmth still attached to a miniature radio my mother bought me—in 1956, at an electrical shop bursting with curiosities in Germantown, PA.. That lovable thing still managed to modulate its interface with the radio-sphere by means of vacuum tubes—although miniaturized to their limit. Just a year later, in my family’s neck of the woods, transistor radios, the first mass-distributed semiconductor-based devices, became widely available, launching the chapter in techno-history with which we still contend and revel.
The text of “Unpacking My Library,” Walter Benjamin’s radio talk published in Die literarische Welt on 17. July 1931, can be read here.