How to avoid becoming a Kindle nerd-bore

Only one way: Just shut up when tempted to say or write anything about it. Otherwise you'll be driving people crazy with your enthusing about how useful and convenient it is, and what its potential might be, and how many elegant decisions are evident in its conception and design.

I'm talking mainly about high-level functional design: what should the whole system be able to do? What functions should be built in or omitted? Rather than the physical industrial design of the device itself -- which is quite nice but is widely recognized as Ver 1.0 of something that will go through many refinements and tweaks.

After the jump, two points about functional-design elegance, then maintaining silence on this subject for as long as I can:

Reading .DOC and (some) .PDF files. This part of the Kindle's function turns out to be much more important than I anticipated.

Mine can't be the only line of work that involves an endless stream of material to read, often arriving as Word .DOC or Adobe .PDF files. I resist printing them out, and I resent the additional hours of sitting in front a computer screen to read them.

By moving them instead to the Kindle, (a) I have them all in one place, (b) I avoid lugging around, or forgetting, that much additional paper, and (c) I have them in a much nicer form for reading than the computer itself.

The elegant design touch here is the range of choices for getting .DOCs and .PDFs into the Kindle. If you're willing to spend ten cents per document, and if you're in range of Kindle's wireless network in the U.S., you email each file to, and a minute or two later it appears automatically on your Kindle.  If you don't want to spend that money, or if you're outside the US, you email them instead to the bluntly-named YourName Then a minute or two later you can download the converted files from an Amazon site and transfer them to the Kindle by USB cable.

The conversion process is bulletproof for .DOC files. Doesn't handle .DOCX, the newer format for Word2007 files. You have to convert them to .DOC on your own computer before sending, but that's easy. It works for some .PDFs and not others. The more text-y and clearly laid out the .PDF file, the better the chances. For more tech info on getting PDFs into a Kindle, check here and here.

What strikes me as elegant is the range of choices: for online and offline, free and low-fee, when you're traveling and when you're at home.

What also strikes me is a subtle branding success. Since there is not yet an agreed generic term for whatever this device is -- not like "your laptop" or "your PDA" etc -- you end up having to say "load them onto your Kindle" whenever you're talking about it.

Library in the cloud: When you buy an e-book from Amazon (and of course there are vast numbers of free books too), it comes onto your Kindle. The device itself can hold hundreds of entire books at a time - probably thousands, if you insert an SD storage card.

When you're done with a book, you can delete it from the Kindle if you want. It stays in your index of available books: the little tab indicating its location just switches from "Kindle" or "SD card" to "Amazon." Meaning that in principle you can go collect it again months or years later.

Obviously extending your library into Amazon's portion of the internet cloud is great for Amazon as a branding lock-in. Obviously too, this and similar developments pose potential big problems for the book store business, even as they might help the book business per se. I love, and go out of my way to shop at, the great independent stores -- from Elliott Bay in Seattle or Powell's in Portland to Kepler's in Menlo Park and the Tattered Cover in Denver and Kramerbooks and Politics & Prose in DC. But I can't easily get books from them when on the road or living abroad.

From the reader's point of view, the seamless cloud/Kindle integration is a nice touch, even if you never go back to re-load a book you previously read. It's a nice illusion to think that your virtual library is always there to browse around in.
Bonus touches
: battery life is something you never have to think about. Unless you forget your recharging cord before setting off for a trek through the Klondike, the power lasts much longer -- many, many days' worth of use -- than you're likely to be away from a plug. You can maximize battery time with two painless steps: leaving the 3G wireless wi-fi receiver off except when you plan to download a book, and turning the device's power off, rather than putting it to sleep, when you're not reading. Unlike a computer, it turns on and off instantly.  And apart from all of this, you can buy replacement batteries.

Also, the screen is, on longer exposure, very comfortable to read from.

By this point, I realize that I have now given a lesson in how to become a Kindle nerd-bore. So that's it for a long while.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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