One of the most delightful side effects of using Amazon's new Kindle is that, by design, it precludes me from wading through the vast, regenerative waves of content that wash up on the shores of the Internet at a breakneck pace. The availability of "interesting" things to read on the web seems inexhaustible, and content-overload has become a condition of the modern web-consumer.
Though, in the week since my Kindle arrived, I have found that my initial disappointment over the relative clunkiness of its experimental web browser has been replaced with a new-found appreciation for long-form reading. I've spent less time monitoring/taming my Google Reader (which provides an endless flow of RSS updates to several dozen of my favorite blogs and web sites), and more time reading The New York Times and a few books and sample chapters I have pulled down from Amazon.com.
In a sense, this has been a wonderfully liberating experience, as I have lamented for years my own decline in book-reading, which had fallen victim to the seductive forces of the web. With the Kindle, my reading options are limited to books and subscriptions I am willing to pay for, which has an added financial incentive to read carefully the content that's delivered, lest my money be wasted.
The Return of Narrowcasting
I think I may be misusing the common definition of this word, but regardless, it's the one word I keep coming back to as I consider my feelings about why the Kindle is special. According to Wikipedia:
Narrowcasting has traditionally been understood as the dissemination of information (usually by radio or television) to a narrow audience, not to the general public.
Narrowcasting is seen as the opposite of broadcasting, and in an age that is seeing more an more content being made available in a variety of different formats, it would seem counter-intuitive to opt for less when more is readily available. But the Kindle (and other forthcoming e-readers), I think, may teach us to be more discerning about what we read. Right now, I see the Kindle as a sort of hybrid device: it doesn't limit me to just one story (as a paperback would), and it doesn't take away the web entirely. If used carefully, it can provide users with a way of navigating digital content without fear of drowning under its ever increasing weight.