One of my favorite periodic guides to more sustainable lifestyles is Sheryl Eisenberg’s This Green Life online column for the NRDC. But Sheryl sparked a controversy when she recently touted Amazon.com’s electronic reader, the Kindle. Eisenberg, like so many of us, not only loves to read but loves to accumulate favorite books, collecting them on shelves to surround her like cherished friends. Yet she increasingly questions the materialism behind such literary acquisitions and sees the Kindle, with its growing library of 120,000 fiction & nonfiction titles, plus top newspapers, magazines, and, yes, blogs, as a rational alternative.
Eisenberg argues that though reading via Kindle consumes electricity & contributes to pollution and global warming, harvesting trees to manufacture what too-often are disposable frivolities (think Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight, not Bronte’s Villette) is worse for the planet. She finds plenty to praise about how Kindle works for her (inexpensive, print-like text, easily searchable), especially loving the convenience of nearly-instant downloads to random locations (imagine the delight if a new copy of The Monkey Wrench Gang could suddenly distract you during a long wait at the DMV). Amazon’s certainly doing its best to educate luddite-leaning readers to give the $359 device a chance. Anyone seriously considering purchase would do well to read the customer reviews for practical pros and cons of Kindle.
Eisenberg got so much flack for advocating a step away from traditional paper books that her next column encourages mail order book swapping instead (though it’s internet based too). Yet she doesn’t address questions such as how electronic book reading might impact nascent readers—a group that last Sunday’s Washington Post warns is less enamored of pleasure reading than ever. And it’s worth considering too whether one of the greatest virtue she perceives, rapid downloading, may be one of the device’s worst capabilities. After all, isn’t the need for instant gratification the core of materialism? Would Thoreau’s clarion call for a simpler life ring true if read off an e-reader(Kindle-Walden’s available for just $2.39!)? But maybe the powers in charge of the Kindle repertoire will resolve that kind of problem for us. So far, at least, they haven’t added A Sand County Almanac to their list.