Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Is it just me or are Kindles annoying?

I’ve never really seen myself as a Luddite, but of late I’ve found myself getting a little inwardly frustrated whenever I’m in a supermarket and one of the staff tries to direct me towards the automated check-outs. I feel as if I should say to the person concerned, “What are you doing? You’re standing there putting yourself out of a job! Why do you want me to use the automated check-out? You should be advising me to use a human being, not a machine, and that way you’ll still be in work. Carry on promoting the auto-check-outs and soon you’ll be receiving your P45.”
Go and buy a proper book! Most people seem to use Kindles on the move.

But I say nothing, although I have started to refuse them when they beckon me over. For a start, I find them quite difficult to use and I can’t be bothered to try and learn. Why should I? All I want is human interaction, I like to chat with the check-out assistant, put my debit card in the machine, refuse or accept cash back and then bid them a cheery farewell.

If the supermarkets get their way, there won’t be any check-out assistants, just machines with, perhaps, one member of staff overseeing the process. What is already a chore will become a nightmare and one really has to think about the aims and objectives of the supermarkets. Are they trying to make the whole process so unbelievably dull that we all shop on-line instead? Probably, although shopping on-line I can cope with: you log on, order your weekly shop and then, hey presto! It turns up in a little orange van. It’s cheaper too because there are no temptations, but then I start to think about all the people that will be put out of work by on-line shopping as it means there’s no need for a store, so they won’t need store managers, shelf stackers, you name it – they’ll all be out of work.

And even if they don’t abolish supermarkets, those who like seeing what’s on the shelves will have to cope with the automated check-outs and all the grief they bring.

That aside, though, it’s the ignorance of the staff that gets me: the way they stand around watching people grow more and more accustomed to an automated process that will, ultimately, put them on the dole queue. The supermarkets will argue that it frees up the staff to do something more productive instead, but that’s just a lie. The idea is simple: if they can get a machine to do a cashier’s job, they’ll save money and that, of course, is what it’s always about: saving money. The customer isn’t really king; that’s a lie too. And then, when the customers decide they’d rather shop on-line, we’ll see derelict supermarkets being turned into over-sized bars and restaurants and casinos by over-ambitious leisure operators – not good.

Sadly, of course, nobody cares, not even the ignorant people who stand to lose their jobs. They are so grateful they have a job in the first place, they’re happy to promote automation and risk losing the only job they have.

On a similar note, I get really angry when I see somebody on a train – or anywhere – reading a Kindle. I can’t stand Kindles! There’s nothing worse than reading anything on a screen and I always feel that owners of Kindles are part of some kind of conspiracy, a conspiracy that leads to the end of books, printed books. Kindle users exist to get rid of books and make us all have to download novels rather than buy them from bookshops or borrow them from libraries. Hell! It means the end of bookshops and libraries because, as Kindle users will tell you, a Kindle allows you to carry the whole library with you on the train! Wow! Isn’t that great! No it’s not fucking great, you morons! 

Kindles take all the pleasure out of reading in the same way that music downloads take all the pleasure out of buying an album. I want to read the sleeve notes! I like the little booklet with the lyrics! I want to see photos of the band! And I like the tactile quality of a book too. I like bookmarks! I like looking at how far my bookmark has sunk through the book, how much I have left to read and how much I have already read! With a Kindle, all that is lost! It means that libraries, like supermarkets, will become ‘venues’ full of back bar fridges crammed with ‘premium priced lagers’.

Imagine reading War & Peace or Infinite Jest on a Kindle? You’d have no idea of where you were in terms of how much you’d read. Okay, you’ll have page numbers to tell you, but there wouldn’t be that sense of achievement that you get with a book and, after reading it, you wouldn’t be able to put it proudly on your bookshelf at home – instead it would remain on your Kindle, in your briefcase or handbag, and then one day, when the system crashes or burns out, you’d lose it forever.

The worst thing about Kindles, of course, is that they’re probably good for the environment. The phrase ‘woodman, spare that tree’ would be redundant and I’m sure that Kindle users will always bring up their mission to save the planet in defense of their new gadget.

If Kindles catch on, books will disappear and so will bookmarks and the home environment will become sterile and minimalist. Rooms would be bare and characterless except for furniture and a television set – and a digital picture frame on the sideboard.

I don’t want to curl up with a Kindle. I want to read a book in front of the fire without worrying that I might melt my new reading gadget.

I often feel like asking a Kindle owner why. Why have they got one? Was it a present? Or did they go out and buy it themselves? They would probably say something like, “It’s the future. It’s the way things are heading.” And, prior to punching them, I’d feel like saying, “Only because you’re letting it happen.”

I hope I’m not alone in my anti-Kindle feelings. I don’t think I am. I just hate the way things are becoming so sterile and insular. We can stay behind closed doors and order our shopping online instead of mixing with real people at the supermarket or in the high street. We can download our books from computers at home rather than visit a bookshop where we could enjoy a cup of coffee and possibly meet with friends. Everything can be done from the safety of our own homes. We all communicate using social networking sites instead of meeting in the pub for a beer. We’re losing our sense of community.

A couple of years ago I boarded a train to Winchester with a work colleague and, once aboard the train, he said to me: “Do you mind if I sit over there and play my PSP?” Of course I didn’t mind, but what he meant was: I hope you don’t mind, but rather than engage you in conversation, I’d like to play Grand Theft Auto on my portable games device. This guy queued up overnight to be one of the first to buy the latest edition – sad or what? He was (and probably still is) such a nobhead! I told him to feel free and he went and sat at the other end of the carriage for the entire journey so that I wouldn’t disturb his gameplay.

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