As you probably know, the Kindle is Amazon's ebook reader. As you probably also know, earlier this week they announced version 2 of the Kindle.
If I were just sitting around at home, I'm pretty sure I'd never buy a Kindle. As far as I'm concerned, an ebook reader does not replace actual books, for two main reasons. First, I like books as physical objects. I like holding them and paging through them and seeing them on shelves. I like the way they smell. But second, and more importantly, as long as ebooks are laden with DRM, they have to be treated as if they have an expiration date, which means that I'm never going to build a library of ebooks.
But that doesn't mean that an ebook reader can't still be a valuable tool, perhaps well suited for some particular purpose. The purpose I have in mind is "making my backpack lighter." When I'm traveling long term outside of the US, my pack typically weighs 20-22 pounds, with three to four books making up a significant chunk of that weight. I am usually carrying a phrase book for the country I'm in, a guidebook for the country I'm in, a non-guidebook book about the country I'm in (a history, for example), and some random book unrelated to travel. If the four books weigh only eight ounces each (unlikely), that's still two pounds, or roughly 10 percent of the weight that I'm carrying, which makes the 10.2 ounce Kindle awfully tempting.
From a traveler's perspective, the Kindle certainly does a lot of things right. It's small and light. The battery lasts for weeks. It can be recharged over USB while checking your email in an internet cafe, eliminating the need to carry the additional weight of a power brick. And it would make available a vast selection of English language books in places where it is typically difficult to find such things. (Once in rural Laos I was so desperate for something to read that I started rereading "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" because it was the only thing I could find in English.) Could this little wafer of plastic solve all my problems?
Well... no. First, while Amazon offers 230,000 books available for download to the Kindle, they do not carry my guidebooks or phrase books of choice. Second, when a guidebook is paper, you can wake up in Marrakech in the morning, tear the few Marrakech pages out of your Morocco guidebook, stick them in your pocket, and leave your hotel for the day without carrying any bag at all. And phrase books also typically fit in a pocket quite easily. A Kindle on the other hand would require a bag. And third, fer cryin' out loud, I already stand out enough as it is. I try to keep a low profile and look like I fit in. It's impossible in many places, but whipping out an exotic electronic device when I need to check a map or figure out how to say "How much for the monkey?" certainly wouldn't help. All of which means that, at best, the Kindle could only replace half of the books that I carry.
So, is it worth it? I'm leaning towards no. But if I end up in the Atlas Mountains with nothing to read but "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," I swear to you I'll recant my sins and promise eternal fealty to Amazon.