Not just thinking about Kindle, but trying to connect some of the current Kindle controversy to what we do for our clients and users with KM/knowledge services. And to our role as knowledge thought leaders in the companies where we are employed.
Two recent articles caught my attention, not surprisingly since (full disclosure) I’m a serious Kindle user. I’m what some people refer to as a “big reader,” currently plowing through the recent translation of War and Peace on my Kindle, and really loving the experience (this book is much better now than when I first read it at 22!). So I’m not a disinterested spectator in the Kindle discussions, and I can’t help wondering how the perspectives offered in two recent articles transition over to our tasks as knowledge professionals.
First of all, I should point out that we are dealing with two different subjects here. In one, Nicholson Baker – famous for his distress at the closing of library card catalogs and the disposal of hard copy newspaper collections – writes in the August 3 issue of The New Yorker about the Kindle as a product. Baker shares with us his disappointment that what he sees on the Kindle – if he is reading a book – isn’t a book. Or if he is reading a newspaper, that what he’s reading isn’t a newspaper. All he’s getting is the content, conveyed to him through an electronic medium that is sort of book-like (or newspaper-like).
And to be fair, Baker puts forward some very legitimate complaints, as when he describes scientific journals that in print display important color-coded charts which, on the Kindle, aren’t color-coded. But that takes me back to my original problem with this whole discussion: if the content isn’t appropriate for reading on the Kindle, why view it on the Kindle? Why would anyone purchase the Kindle version of a scientific journal that required color-coding? And of more concern, why would Amazon sell it? My guess is that Amazon acquired the publisher’s entire list – or the portion of the list that happened to contain these materials – and simply didn’t road test the material before it was made available.
That’s why I’m having a little problem with this particular piece of the Kindle controversy, and that relates to my attempt to connect the Kindle “idea” with our work in KM/knowledge services. Our job is to get the user the content, in the format he/she requires. If all the user needs is the text (like me with the new translation of War and Peace), what’s the difference if it’s read on Kindle? And especially if I prefer to read it this way, since I am the reader and it’s my choice. If I want to, I can purchase the hard copy or the paperback and lug it around with me, but I travel a lot and carrying around the Kindle is much easier. And I don’t remember having any problem accommodating (if that’s the right word) myself to the format. It works for me.
So perhaps thinking in terms of the-one-or-the-other isn’t the way to go here. Perhaps “balance” is a more appropriate attribute, as Mary Tripsas writes in yesterday’s New York Times. In her article about how innovation often takes a long time to take hold. Tripsas makes it clear that just thinking about the “old” as a cash cow or as a source of inertia holds us back. She asks for “selective, intelligent innovation” and perhaps that’s what we’re looking for as we – as knowledge professionals – seek to move our companies toward a knowledge culture.
And not to be in too big a hurry (after all, as Tripsas coincidentally just happens to note, “despite the recent buzz over the Kindle and other electronic reading devices, e-books are still less than 5 percent of overall book sales”). So perhaps the future for us, for the Nicholson Bakers of the world, and particularly for our users who come to us for KM/knowledge services advice, is to take it easy and recognize that reading newspapers and books represents one way of acquiring content and using a Kindle (or Kindle-like) device for the same or similar content is another way. It all just depends (very simply, really) on which version of the “content” the user wants or requires.