Pt. I: Meet Cute
So Sony 700 showed up on my front porch in a plain brown box, with none of the exotic fairy-tale wrapping of his distant cousin Kindle. That didn’t stop my teenage daughter from squealing “SOOOOO CYUUUUTTTE!!!” at the sight of him, and despite my embarrassment, I privately agreed. Short, sleek, and slim, he was almost everything I love in a hero; I only hoped he didn’t exhibit the psychotic tendencies I also had a fondness for – in fiction.
I’m not much of a one for small talk, so after a cursory tussle with the unwieldy (and uninformative) instructions, I decided to see how well Sony operated on intuition alone. Unlike others who found him hard to get started, I thought charging, installation, and set up was a breeze. He was a bit of a nuisance to shop for – the design of the Sony Store seems deliberately obfuscatory, and certainly had no desire to pander to my innate cheapness. Once I made my selections, though, loading them on the e-library and thence to the reader was a matter of “drop-and-drag”. His receptivity wasn’t exclusive, either; I had even less problems loading purchases from publisher sites, from free downloads from author sites; he even treated one of my own novellas, converted to PDF format, with the identical open-ness he showed to “real” books, a courtesy that could not fail to charm.
However, learning to read him was a bit more of a problem. It’s not that he wasn’t transparent on the surface, his menu straightforward, his controls easy to manipulate with a bit of experimentation. I especially appreciated the tenderness he showed towards my aged eyes, willing to expand to the largest type with a flick of the stylus. Unlike some others, I found the page turn to be seamless, smooth, and non-distracting.
No, it’s just that he was so … bland. Grey. Monotonous. None of the sensual thrill I was used to with books. No sharp contrasts of black on creamy white. None of the crisp snap of paper pages, no smooth jewel tones to the dull black-and-white covers, no bulky heft or lithe flex to the tome in my hand, no indescribable sharp scent of ink and woodpulp and dust that breathed “story” to my backbrain.
But I scolded myself for being shallow. It was the words that mattered, right? So I brought him to work with me, to the public library, to introduce him to my co-workers and the public. At first they lined up to meet him, breathing little “ooh”s and “aaah”s at his novelty, his cleverness, his adaptability. They played with his buttons and poked at his options. They skimmed a few pages, and watched eagerly as I demonstrated how how I could download e-books and online documents from the library’s subscription databases to his copious memory.
And then they asked about prices. Initial outlay, and to keep feeding his ravenous appetite for new content. They raised eyebrows, and asked about news stories they had heard about DRM, and about titles disappearing overnight. “That was the Other Guy”, I assured them, but was forced to concede that his legal status was still in flux; that his design was being withdrawn; that I simply didn’t know what kind of future we could be sure of together.
“Mmmphh,” they said, as they walked away. No one ever asked to stick around and hang out with him, let alone if they could take him home.
“Never mind them,” I reassured my Sony. “Next week, I know you’ll prove your sterling worth. We’re going on vacation together.”
(Stay tuned for Part II: It’s Not You, It’s Me.)