The true nature of irony often escapes me, it's not an easy concept. But I'm pretty sure that I achieved a good example of irony this morning.
I was reading an article called "Citizen Bezos," by Steve Coll, which appears in the New York Review of Books. It's up on the web site now, it's a good read, you can check it out. I got a lot of background about Mr. Bezos, I hadn't known much about him personally before reading the article, just a little bit about his business activities and his management style. The author provided a lot of detail about Amazon's founding, its growth over the years, and it's now preeminent place in the virtual retailing of books, both real and virtual. None of this material received a treatment that was, let's say, flattering.
I read the article on my Kindle. I often transfer long-form non-fiction from the web to my Kindle for the convenience of it. I do still prefer paper to the Kindle, but I also much prefer reading on the Kindle to reading on the computer itself. You can't read from the computer while reclining comfortably on your bed. Is it ironic, I wondered, reading on a Kindle about Mr. Bezos's dubious achievements in digital retail?
I will say this without reservation: I love my Kindle.
I will also say, with only slight reservations, that I rather like Amazon. I find the consumer experience very comfortable, and I'm happy with the products and the retail experience of it.
Much of what I read is free Amazon content. I enjoy many writers who are far beyond copyright protection and even further from mass readership. Amazon is very clever about using the free content to steer you towards purchases. For instance, I recently reread, free on Kindle, the first novel in "Doc" Smith's Lensmen series; subsequent installments require purchasing. They're inexpensive, but still.
I also appreciate the many omnibus editions of the works of rather antique authors, Kindle is full of them and they are very inexpensive, lots of good reading for ninety-nice cents or so.
And then, of course, I am not loathe to purchase the occasional full price Kindle edition of a book that I wish to read. I have purchased some new non-fiction books ("Bloodlands," "The Guns at Last Light"), and a couple of novels ("The Twelve," the sequel to "The Passage."). Those were a little on the expensive side, but still cheaper than the paper copies. Besides, if I'd wanted the paper copies I'd have had to order them from Amazon anyway, because they're not generally available in Thailand.
Not every book is so expensive though. I'm going to order something today, in fact, that is a remarkable bargain. An all in one, Kindle edition of the first four books in a series of five autobiographical novels by the English author, Edward St. Aubyn. All four, for only $7.99. Should I feel guilty about that purchase? After all, the publisher will be lucky to get a total of a dollar for all four books, and Mr. St. Aubyn probably rather less. Mr. Bezos already has a fortune of about thirty billion dollars. But guilty? No. I take the world as I find it.
It's all very modern, and it's very hard for us to make value judgments about individual aspects of it. I do worry about old warnings from Science Fiction stories coming only too true. Like the digital "library" in the first screen iteration of "Roller Ball." Claiming to have everything, they really had very little, and what they did have was was heavily censored by the authoritarian regime. We're getting dangerously close to that. Books are disappearing faster than amphibians, and that does not bode well for our future.
But I'm such a Casandra, don't listen to me. The future will probably turn out just fine. Probably.