At Christmas time, I always think about people who’ve been with us over the years — and I remember watching David Letterman all the way back in the 1980s. So it was nice to see him talking about the Kindle once, still making jokes about our funny modern world. This is the last year he’ll be recording his late-night talk show, but nearly four years ago on his late-night talk show he’d shown off the tablet that he’d just started using.
Around the holidays each year I like to revisit that story, because it’s a good reminder about how fast things have changed — and how sometimes the biggest challenge is simply our own stubborn human nature! Talking to the leader of his band (Paul Shaffer), Letterman at first actually seemed genuinely confused even about whether he’d bought an iPad or a Kindle!
LETTERMAN: For Christmas, I loaded up — I had one of them iPads, and they put a book in it. You know you can do that now?
PAUL SHAFFER: Oh, yeah. Sure…
LETTERMAN: And so I’ve been reading this book in this iPad thing, and I’m reading and I’m reading and I’m reading. And as you know, you don’t turn a page, in — when you’re reading on the — what do they call them, the Kindles or something?
PAUL SHAFFER: Yeah… They’ve got that, too, yeah. (Audience laughs)
Letterman was probably reading with a “Kindle for iPad” app. (Earlier that week, Amazon had pointed out that it’s one of the top 10 best-selling apps among iPad owners.) But as their conversation went on, Paul Shaffer gently tried to correct Letterman’s confusion as he explained how you turn pages.
LETTERMAN:And so you just — you just kind of do this with your finger.
PAUL SHAFFER: You flip that. Yeah.
LETTERMAN:And the thing’ll…
PAUL SHAFFER: On the iPad and the Kindle…
Letterman was playing up his reactions as a technology curmudgeon — but he was building up to a complaint that I’d heard before. The Kindle used to tell you only what percentage of a book you’d finished reading, without telling you how many real-world pages were left in the book. Now, of course, the Kindle can actually report how much time is left before you reach the end of book — or even the end of your current chapter. But back in 2010, this was irritating the late-night talk show host. Although the punch line turned out to be that his bandleader Paul Shaffer had the perfect answer!
LETTERMAN: And I’m reading, and I realize: something’s wrong here. Something’s desperately wrong. There’s no page numbers on my book!
PAUL SHAFFER: Right. No, well, there can’t be. There can’t be, because you can change the font, and if you have a larger font, then you’re going to have fewer pages and therefore you can’t possibly commit to a page number because as you electronically alter the page you number, you are going to have to change as well the number of pages that you have at your disposal…(Audience applauds)
LETTERMAN: Thank you. Thank you, Steve Jobs.
It’s nice to remember that story, as a reminder of how things have changed. (Amazon eventually even found a way to add page numbers to lots of Kindle ebooks, so maybe Letterman is happier now.) But I still always smile when I remember how skeptical he’d been about the iPad — even in earlier shows. When the device was first released, he’d showed one to his audience, then joked “The radiation this thing gives off is incredible. You’re supposed to wear a lead apron when you operate it!”
But it was especially interesting in light of a research study by J.P. Morgan. Back in early 2011, they’d determined that 40% of the people who own an iPad also own a Kindle — and that another 23% of them planned to buy one within the next 12 months!
It’s a hopeful sign that all iPad owners aren’t as confused as David Letterman! But I still would like to drop his comments into a time capsule, to be opened up by later generations. Even if books are all someday replaced by digital readers, it’ll be worth remembering just how uncomfortable some people were with the change.
LETTERMAN: But see, and then you just — you just whisk it away like that, and then — but look. What do you see? Do you see a page number?
PAUL SHAFFER: No….
LETTERMAN: No. You don’t see no page number.
PAUL SHAFFER: No. There isn’t…
LETTERMAN: How do you know when you’re done, is what I want to know? Or if somebody – somebody asks you, are you reading the — the book? And I say yeah. “What page are you on?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know what page I’m on.” For example, this — I’m reading now the Alex Trebeck story, and I have no idea — uh…No, I can’t help you. Sorry!