Is the Kindle Changing Our Lives?

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There’s three Kindle stories today, and together they paint a picture of how the Kindle is changing our world. First, 8% of Americans now own a Kindle or some other digital reading device, according to a newly-released poll. It discovered that 92% of Americans don’t own a digital reader, so “any real changes may take a while to detect, but some small ones are noticeable now.” Harris Interactive had surveyed 2,775 adults last month, and concluded that people who own digital readers end up reading more books.

I had to laugh, because yesterday I’d reported on a 2008 comment by Steve Jobs. The Apple CEO told an audience that “40% of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year… people don’t read any more.” But according to the new Harris poll, now it’s only 25% of Americans who read one book or less each year. (Plus, there’s apparently another 40% of Americans who every year read at least 11 books.) And the percentages are even higher for people who own a digital reader: each year a full 62% of them read at least 11 books, while 26% of them are reading more than 20 books!

“People seem to be reading more if they have an eReader,” the researchers concluded, “which is something the publishing industry, which has been in decline over recent years, is sure to celebrate.” But the same day, there was an interesting counterpoint coming from one of America’s top technology colleges. Last week I reported figures challenging whether the ebook was really outselling the printed book. Today those figures drew a response from the Technology Review blog at MIT.

“The death of the book has been greatly exaggerated…” wrote Christopher Mims. “I’m calling the peak of inflated expectations now.” He’d heard predictions that the printed book would be dead within five years, but “it’s just as likely that as the ranks of the early adopters get saturated, adoption of ebooks will slow… Get ready for the next phase of the hype cycle – the trough of disillusionment. The signs of a hype bubble are all around us.”

Fortunately, the pollsters also asked whether people planned on buying a digital reader over the next six months. 80% of them said they were “not likely” to, and 59% even described themselves emphatically as “not at all likely.” Another eight percent said they weren’t sure, leaving 12% who said they were likely. But even among that 12%, for every one person who said they were “very likely,” there were three who were only “somewhat likely.”

But there’s a wild third perspective coming from a bus driver in Oregon. The 40-year-old bus driver was caught reading his Kindle while driving the bus. It was 7:15 in the morning on a fateful drive towards downtown Portland, and his reckless driving was captured by another handheld piece of technology — a cellphone movie. In one amazing frame, he’s actually steering the bus with just one elbow on its steering wheel, holding his chin in his hand while he points his head down towards the Kindle resting on the driver-sider dashboard. “At one point he also appears to ‘turn’ a page,” noted one Oregon TV report.

I know it’s only one anecdote, but I think it says more than any statistics ever could about how much the Kindle is creeping into our world…

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