I’m going to take the long way around to laud Kindle and the other e-book platforms as a few of the purest advances born of the digital revolution. But first:
I want to know how it’s possible for the normal homeowner, the one who takes on the clerical responsibilities, to wield his or her mental machete through the tangle of ever-changing insurance policies, mysteriously increasing Verizon bills, mind-numbing tax laws, junk mail disguised — “we’re pleased to inform you” — as once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. And don’t forget the camouflaged cons aimed at getting your Social Security or bankcard number.
We’re talking a major bookkeeping challenge and one often complicated by the Internet. True, banking and some bill-paying is easier online, but getting online answers to tax or insurance questions is like trying to follow the “easy assembly” directions written by the manufacturer of a hanging-file stand who is both dyslexic and new to the English language.
I continue to believe that an informed human (and I hear there are a bunch of them looking for work) is better able to explain a complicated issue than an online tutorial written in Googlespeak. Don’t get me wrong, Google is a deity as far as I’m concerned. It’s his apostles who often muddy chapter and verse.
I’m not an Occupy Wall Street kind of guy, per se, but it’s clear the executives of some of our largest corporations are able to walk away with more annual treasure than the combined lifetime earnings of a hundred or more middle-class folks by using some of the oldest tricks in the book.
It’s either the old bait and switch — “you can get a new cellphone for free if you sign up for a new plan that will cost you tenfold the cost of the phone by the time the plan expires” — or (and this is far more cynical) they bury us in paper (or megabytes).
Make them march through mud. It’s what the Russians did to Napoleon. Drown them in small print: interest-rate changes, plan limits, expirations, deadlines so complicated and time-consuming that they’ll just give up and pay it.
We’ve played along, of course. Much of our “necessities” are more convenient than essential. We buy something to save time, or play with it (I’m thinking of the iPhone here), then spend the time we saved looking for ways to squander more of it until the bills come and we realize that all that time has, presto change-o, turned into money.
The point is, devices that allow us to tap into the Internet or cellular technology are either extremely helpful or are destructive Trojan horses.
It seems to me that Kindle and the other e-book platforms do what the Internet originally promised. I understand it when people say, “I prefer to hold an old-fashioned book.” I do too, but it’s not an either-or thing. For a curious reader, a traveling reader, a student, a researcher, having instantaneous access to original, unabridged material for a pittance is a world-changer.
And, for a writer, e-book publishing, which has in many ways bypassed the cumbersome traditional publishing system while often working in concert with it, is a godsend, I mean Googlesend.
Russell Drumm is a senior writer at The Star.