In his 1995 book, Being Digital, Nicholas Negroponte (who is now trying to bring affordable computing to the third world) framed the change then ahead as replacing atoms (e.g., books) with bits (digital information). There have been a number of digital readers introduced, the latest being Amazon's Kindle. I read a fair amount of things on my HP PDA. Amazon's is coupled with an enormous number of digitized books and other reading matter. Available readers haven't done well in the consumer marketplace, but the relatively small first run of Kindles sold out quickly. Steven Levy wrote a lengthy and laudatory article on it for Newsweek:
... Books have been very good to Jeff Bezos. When he sought to make his mark in the nascent days of the Web, he chose to open an online store for books, a decision that led to billionaire status for him, dotcom glory for his company and countless hours wasted by authors checking their Amazon sales ratings. But as much as Bezos loves books professionally and personally—he's a big reader, and his wife is a novelist—he also understands that the surge of technology will engulf all media. "Books are the last bastion of analog," he says, in a conference room overlooking the Seattle skyline. We're in the former VA hospital that is the physical headquarters for the world's largest virtual store. "Music and video have been digital for a long time, and short-form reading has been digitized, beginning with the early Web. But long-form reading really hasn't." Yet. This week Bezos is releasing the Amazon Kindle, an electronic device that he hopes will leapfrog over previous attempts at e-readers and become the turning point in a transformation toward Book 2.0. That's shorthand for a revolution (already in progress) that will change the way readers read, writers write and publishers publish. The Kindle represents a milestone in a time of transition, when a challenged publishing industry is competing with television, Guitar Hero and time burned on the BlackBerry; literary critics are bemoaning a possible demise of print culture, and Norman Mailer's recent death underlined the dearth of novelists who cast giant shadows. On the other hand, there are vibrant pockets of book lovers on the Internet who are waiting for a chance to refurbish the dusty halls of literacy. ...
Link: Newsweek. Thanks to Karen Olstad for the link.
Wall Street Journal technology guru Walt Mossberg is less positive. He has been testing the Kindle, and writes:
.... I’ve been testing the Kindle for about a week, and I love the shopping and downloading experience. But the Kindle device itself is just mediocre. While it has good readability, battery life and storage capacity, both its hardware design and its software user interface are marred by annoying flaws. It is bigger and clunkier to use than the Sony Reader, whose second version has just come out at $300. ...
Link: All Things Digital.
Jeff Jarvis has some interesting comments about the economic model in play here. Link: BuzzMachine.
Updated 2 December 2007:
Be sure to check out David Weinberger's thoughtful essay, The future of book nostalgia. Link: JOHO. --Dennis