Sometimes, I am very much my father’s daughter. You see, at our family Chanukah party last month, my dad and I got into an argument (the type that’s probably better described as a friendly bickerment) about cell phones. Dad had just gotten a new phone, and when he purchased it, he had the nice Verizon employee switch off all potential web browsing, email, general internet, and even text messaging options.

My dad wants a phone. He wants to be able to call people and have them call him. That’s all he wants.

All of which is fine and dandy. Not what the bickerment was about. That came in when he insisted that my shiny black iPhone is not a phone, it’s a computer. Which, on the one hand, is true. It’s a teeny, tiny computer that I carry around in my purse, which happens to send and receive phone calls.

And so we spent half an hour arguing: “It lets me call people! That makes it a phone!” “All a phone does is send phone calls! That’s why they call them phone calls!” “You don’t get to define the word just because you don’t want to pay for a smartphone!” “I don’t want to pay for a computer plan when I just want a telephone!” “But it is a telephone!” “It is not!”

We eventually reached a consensus of, “You’re wrong,” “Your FACE is wrong,” and I stormed off to talk to more reasonable cousins, like the pre-teens who won’t talk to you unless you can quote Monty Python sketches with them.

All of which is to say, I suspect my feelings about ereader tablets are irrational and unfair, but god damn it, ereaders are for READING BOOKS, not watching movies.

I have an ereader that I very much like. It’s a black and white Nook. It’s started to go a little wonky with age, but I plan to use it until it falls apart, because it’s more or less perfect for my own, personal reading habits. It’s great for subway reading: it fits into my purse, I only need one hand to hold it (and that same hand can turn pages, or, I guess, “turn pages” since actually it’s hitting a button); it’s light enough to carry around everywhere I go1; it holds roughly a million bajillion books, so if I finish one while I’m out, I’ve got plenty more loaded up to read; I can buy books from my couch (dangerous!) including finding a lot of things I have trouble finding in stores; and all the public domain books I want are easily found and free (did I just download the entire Sherlock Holmes canon? Why yes, yes I did).

Now, I realize that absolutely all of that is true of all color, tablet, 3G, and other various ereaders that are out there. In fact, there’s nothing my elderly Nook can do that they can’t. Which is kind of the point.

I bought my Nook to read books on. It’s black and white, which means it’s eink rather than LCD, and thus easier on my eyes for long periods of time. I mostly use it on the subway, so I wouldn’t be able to do internet-related stuff on it anyway. And if I’m not on the subway and want to do internet related stuff, I have my laptop for that, or if I’m out and about, my iPhone.2 And when I’m using it at home, if I want to watch a movie… well, I probably want to have a movie on WHILE I’m reading my book, which I couldn’t do if my book and movie were playing on the same device. Besides which, I have a TV which has cable, a DVD player, and Netflix streaming hooked up, which makes for a much better movie-watching experience than something I’d have to hold on to or prop up. 3

So basically what I’m saying is: for all of those bell and whistle features, I’ve got something else that’s more effective. I don’t need and am not interested in a tablet, and if I was, instead of getting a hybrid ereader-tablet-thingy, I’d go whole hog and buy an iPad, probably. Which seems to be the crux of the matter: iPads are great for many things, but they aren’t really ereaders. Yes, they can be used for reading electronic books, but they’re designed for all kinds of other things and they also happen to let you read books. The Nook Tablet and Kindle Fire and others like ’em seem to be chasing that market, which is only tangentially related to reading, hoping to catch on by being significantly less expensive. And that may well be a winning strategy! I am not a business person, and clearly am not the market for those devices, so what do I know?

Well. I know that I don’t want a tablet that also happens to let me read books. I want an ereader: a device designed for reading books, that doesn’t have to do anything else, damn it.

(Dad is still wrong about my iPhone, though.)

  1. This is why, even though a friend loaned me a copy of Reamde, I broke down and bought the ebook. Neal Stephenson does not fit conveniently in my purse, as I learned from reading Cryptonomicon shortly after moving to the city. The paperback got almost too tattered to read and fell apart by the time I finished.
  2. Sorry, Dad, I mean pocket computer.
  3. And wow, typing that up certainly gave me a moment of realizing how incredibly privileged I am to live somewhere all this is available, and to be able to take advantage of it.

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