Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bye-bye Kindle?

Agents don't like the Kindle.  This has become clear, based on the current wrangling between Amazon and agents over rights and costs, monopolies and so forth.  Before this news broke, I was talking to an agent who said that she would never buy a Kindle, because it's bound to be replaced by something better and faster.  "It's going to look like a beta-max in six months," she said.  "Don't waste your two hundred bucks."

I didn't admit that I had already--in fact, just--done exactly that.

I am not a trendsetter.  In fact, if this word had an antonym, that would be me.

A month after I finally accept that it's time to join the legions of folks who swear by their Kindles, and get one for Matt for Christmas ("Thanks for the present," he jokes every time he comes into bed and sees me reading on it) Apple announces its i-pad.  It's twice the price but a million times cooler and better designed than the beige (beta-max-y) Kindle--able to hold pictures, books, movies.  "Bye bye, Kindle," said my friend Dana.  Granted, she works at Apple so she has reason to believe that the i-pad is going to corner the market, but I'm inclined to believe too, if only because I bought a Kindle, so it must be on the way out.

This is not the first time I've purchased some digital gadget only to have it almost immediately rendered obsolete by the next generation device.  A mini-disc player purchased right before the advent of the MP3 comes to mind.  It was cute.  Smaller than a sandwich, and apple green.  They were all the rage in Japan, where you could rent CD's and then copy them in just a few minutes onto cheap mini-discs.  But I returned to the US and found mini-discs hard to come by here.  I was stuck with an extensive collection of J-pop by Puffy and Kiroro.  If you haven't heard of these bands, there's a reason.    

One of my adult students, a woman in her mid-fifties (I'm guessing based on the ages of her children--I teach her online, so we've never actually met) recently wrote a piece for class about how brokenhearted she felt when she stopped being able to buy cassettes, and again when she had to box up her old CD's, and how she's almost unwilling to form an attachment to a new device only to have her heart broken her again.  I liked her ardor.  It is certainly discouraging, if not quite heartbreaking, to have a prized collection of tapes, CDs' (or possibly books, in the not so distant future) suddenly lose its value, become bulky and kitschy.  For a while at least, holding onto these relics just shows your age and how uncool you are. 

All of this has made me remember a humiliating and humbling experience of my early twenties.  A friend in publishing (OK--I babysat her kids) helped get me an interview with the head of HR for Conde Nast: Bucky Keady.  How could I forget that name?  Or the way the wiry little thing wore a cowboy hat and a business suit?  Bucky Keady seemed to see some glimmer of potential in me (or she was just trying to be nice to our mutual friend) and so she "forwarded" me to an interview at one of the Conde Nast magazines: Details for Men.  I think they may have dropped the "for Men" part since then, but as a newly minted Barnard graduate, that detail stuck out and made me wonder why, of all of their publications, this was the one where I was being funneled for my second interview.

For four months prior to this, I had been traveling around South East Asia.  I went abroad having secured via mail (yes, the actual post office) a teaching job for the coming year at a Catholic university in Semarang, Indonesia.  I got there and learned that the position had fallen through.  I also got desperately homesick, and when a friend told me about an apartment for rent in New York--all I had to do was bribe the super $500 and it could be mine--I begged my mom to send a check and returned to the city with no job.  As a stop-gap measure, I worked as a kindergarten teacher's aid at a private school where the kids brought lunches with detailed prep instructions like, "grate asiago on the penne after heating." 

So I was excited for my Details interview.  Bucky Keady hadn't told me much about the position, except that it would entail "attention to detail" work at first, with the possibility of future writing assignments.  It sounded good to me, and a lot better than pitting olives for a five year-old's nicoise salad.

I was already sweating when I went into the interview--it was an Indian summer day, and I was wearing a ridiculous tweed skirt suit, a button-down shirt, stockings and heels, like I was auditioning for Mad Men--but I started sweating even harder after the editor asked me his first question: "What trends have you noticed lately?" 

My mind went blank. 

"OK," he said.  "Let's start simpler.  What new music has been catching your attention lately?" 

All summer, in Indonesia, it seemed like the only album I'd heard (everywhere, all the time) was Bob Marley's Legend.  I'd brought a half dozen tapes and a Walkman (yes, that's how old I am) but somehow I didn't think that Paul Simon's greatest hits or Sarah McLaughlan were going to impress this slick Details editor. 

"What's the last CD you bought?" he asked. 

"Joni Mitchell?" I said, not admitting that it hadn't been a CD.  His next question was about trends I'd noticed in fashion, and the only answer I could come up with was that I'd seen a lot of guys around the city wearing stockings on their heads. 

"Are you talking about doo-rags?" he asked, sounding incredulous. 

It turned out that the position for which Details for Men was hiring was "Trendspotter."

He all but pushed me out the door.  And he was right to.  But I can't help but think that there must be a practical use for someone who spots trends right before they expire.  I could save people a lot of money.  If you've been thinking of buying a Kindle, maybe you should hold back.


St. Andrew said...

I loved, loved, loved my old mini-disc players! Recording my CDs onto mini-disc mix-tapes had the feel of making cassettes, but with a bleeding edge technology twist. And then I bought my first iPod, and my mini-discs were retired forever. I blame it all on Apple.

Terresa said...

Great post. I still have all my Depeche Mode and INXS LPs from high school. Yep, I was the nerd buying 'em while everyone else was buying the new fangled CDs.

In graduate school, I remember discussing technology trends, how they eclipse one another, time and again, and how they affect information sharing, depending on if you still own/have access to the device (however archaic) to play it on. Fascinating topic.

PS: I don't own a Kindle. While I'm no Luddite, I'm waiting until they become cheaper & better.

Malena Watrous said...

I'm glad to hear from someone else who had the mini-disc player. Ipods and iphones are cool but I do miss *having* the music in some solid form. And Theresa, your nerdiness in the past now makes you cool--just like all the record collectors in the Mission. Same applies to the love of Depeche Mode and INXS. But isn't it hard to resist the urge to say, "Yes, but I liked them the FIRST time they were popular!" And keep resisting the Kindle. Although I find it hilarious that I'm bashing Kindle when I can see them posting an ad on this very site an inch below my typing.