Harvard Hero Moment #11- The (anti)hero tech I didn’t want to love

Ellie Thompson

30 Oct 2019

This won’t surprise many of you, but I was a relative latecomer to my chosen hero tech. But with good reason, or so I believed at the time… I found my favourite book when I was 11, forgotten on a book shelf at home, already tattered at the edges. Katherine by Anya Seyton is a book I have read every two years or so since then; it is a book I have recommended countless times; it is my ultimate escapism when I need it and it’s a book I still own – the very same copy that I found 27 years ago. And while it was my first literary love, it was not my last. In the years that followed I filled my bookshelves and surfaces at home, at university and in my first flat in London with all my favourites.

Introducing the iPod of Reading

So, when Amazon launched its Kindle, I declared I would never own one. “What is wrong with an actual, physical book?” I was indignant. And while I wasn’t alone in thinking this, there were plenty who disagreed. In fact, when the first went on sale on 19th November 2007 it sold out in just five and a half hours and remained out of stock for a further five months. It was rapidly dubbed the ‘iPod of Reading’. By Christmas 2009 the headlines read “Spare a thought for the humble hardback this Christmas” when for first time Amazon customers bought more eBooks than printed books on Christmas day. I however stayed resolute… until October 2012 when the Kindle Paperwhite was released in the UK. And what was it about this version that had me eating my paperback words? Illumination. The Kindle Paperwhite added illumination to the display with manual brightness adjustment. You could now read in the dark – and my resolve crumbled.

It’s all about the reading

Once I had relented, I went all in. I took my Kindle everywhere with me. A working, commuting mum of a two-year-old, I had access to all my favourite books in a light, compact device. I went from “I don’t have time/space in my bag/opportunity to read anymore” to rediscovering my passion for reading. This little piece of technology had given something back to me I had lost and afforded me some valuable me-time in a very hectic life. And when I think about all the technology I use – it is (both as a device and as an app) one of the most enduring. Where tablets, phones, PCs and TVs have seen radical changes, the technology and the functions of the Kindle have remained true to task. It was never designed to compete with tablets. The Kindle gives you access to digital books and provides the best method for reading them. It's about reading, reading, reading. It's a tool for a single job (if you discount the Kindle Fire!) and I love it for that. And I was wrong. The launch of the Kindle did not lead to the demise of the book. While it certainly shook things up, the books market has reached an equilibrium and I am not alone in having both books and Kindle in my life. My bookshelves are still packed with the favourites I read time and again; and I like nothing more than whiling away time in a bookstore (finding it impossible still to leave without buying a few). But just like all technology should, Kindle enhances something I love to do. It makes it more convenient and accessible - the digital working in harmony with its physical counterpart rather than destroying it. And perhaps most importantly it gives us all more opportunities to read – which is what really matters.