Monday, January 17, 2011

I bought a Kindle. Or, A Commentary on American Society and its Consumerism

I caved. I am still uneasy with my purchase, no matter how much people tell me it's the greatest thing in the world. I feel like I'm betraying my childhood obsession with perusing the bookstore near my moms shop, sitting for hours and getting lost in a copy of The Babysitters Club, or staying up until three am reading The Diary of Anne Frank, only stopping because my mom came in and physically took the book away. My heart sank a little when I clicked "place order", and I still haven't gotten very excited about it. I wonder what my dad would think. He had a library of books in his house, some of which I've kept and some I've gotten rid of (though it honestly pained me to do so). He was also into technology though, and had to have the latest and greatest everything.

I think I figured out another reason why it's not sitting well with me either - I'm taking with me technology to make my life easier and more comfortable while I'm living in a developing nation. None of the Ugandans I live with or work with are going to have Kindles, they're not going to be fretting about reading their e-reader in bright sunlight, or how long the battery lasts or the classics they can get for free since the copyrights have expired. If they have books at all, they're going to be paper and ink. If I'm truly to integrate into my community, shouldn't I just do as they do? People have asked me how I'm going to deal with bucket baths and pit latrines while I'm over there, and I just say that millions of people do that every day of their lives, why can't I do it for two years? It's certainly not going to kill me, it's just different from what we know here. I think I just feel uneasy accumulating unnecessary things (because let's be honest, that's what they are) to make my life easier. I am not trying to preach or condemn anyone here, because I am just as guilty of it as anyone, it just seems like in America we have all of our basic needs met, so we have begun to see "wants" as "needs". I have an iphone that I'm addicted to (though that lately has been making me uncomfortable too, but that's another entry), I have a laptop, three digital cameras, two ipods, etc., etc. All of these things make my life easier, but where is the line between want and need? I need to communicate, but do I need facebook at my fingertips and a million apps? I need to listen to music, but do I need 10,000 songs in my pocket? I love taking and looking at pictures, but my dslr is honestly ridiculous (though I do love it!)

There is just such a dichotomy that I'm beginning to be way more aware of as I get closer and closer to the biggest change of my life so far.

7 comments:

Tracy said...

Great post, Liz. I am definitely with you- why am I buying all of this crap to make my time easier when what I really should be doing is learning to live without? Don't be too hard on yourself, though. I think we'll still be getting the message about materialism & consumerism even if we bring our iPhones, Kindles, laptops, etc. And, if you decide that you want to have a more "authentic" experience (whatever that means), you could always send it home after a few weeks. Does depriving ourselves really make us somehow better? I don't know. Oh- also- I found you on FB but am unable to friend you b/c of privacy settings...

Sherlie said...

A kindle is on my birthday Wishlist. One way to think about it is it's lighter than taking physical books and you have weight limits to consider.

elizabeth said...

Sherlie - I know that, and that's ultimately why I bought it, but all the reasons I spelled out are why I'm not happy about it.

Laura said...

As a librarian and a kindle owner, I have to take the stance that books are certainly not dead, only evolving. I know there are plenty of people who prefer the paper and ink versions, and plenty who prefer the convenience of the ereader, but I think for a lot of people they can co-exist. Whether I choose to read a book on my kindle or check it out from the library is really a matter of availability, and whether or not I'm going to want to keep it and travel around with it. So I definitely wouldn't feel bad for "replacing" real books with ebooks; they're still books.

As for technology guilt, what do you think of this? http://www.worldreader.org/ I have no idea if this is really practical enough to take off, but it's interesting.

The Strix said...

I got a kindle for my service too. Books are heavy. I read a lot of them (A LOT) and I actually do need access to a lot of specific titles in order to start preparing for grad school. Not to mention I have a ton of PDFs and sheet music on there that I will want to have access to during my service. So I don't feel guilty, and that "authentic experience" crap is misguided and outdated.

elizabeth said...

@Laura: that is really interesting, I hadn't heard of that before. It makes sense for sure in the immediate sense, but I would wonder about the sustainability of such an endeavor. While I'm not over there yet, I've heard of lots of problems with the computers in schools, how they're outdated and not maintained, not enough for all the students etc. They were donated years and years ago and then that was it. I would just wonder what these e-readers are going to be like 10 years down the road. (and that's really just wondering, not criticizing the project, just wondering)
@Strix: thanks for the reminder that the "authentic experience" is crap :) I totally understand the benefits of Kindles, which is why I ended up buying one, I ready a ton, too and I wouldn't have spent the money if I didn't think I needed it. I think it's just taking me some time to adjust to it; I've been described as a purist when it comes to certain things and I think it's showing a little bit here.

Christine Hooyman said...

I caved as well, and got a Kindle as a gift from my mom. Initially, I too was reluctant...but I've already read four books on my Kindle and can tell it's going to be very useful during service.

I have been struggling too with all the stuff I need to buy for service -- a sleeping bag, a new duffle bag, some new shoes... so know that you're not alone on that front. And even if we didn't buy anything new and went without our Kindles and iPhones, I'm pretty sure our privilege and materialism would still shine through.

As for having an "authentic Peace Corps experience", I think it's important to think about what that really means. I mean, there's a lot of privilege in wanting to live without electricity, running water or electronics for two years. I always sort of cringe when I hear about volunteers who want to live in a mud hut, or think the more minimalist they live the more hardcore they are. At the end of the day, I don't really think that's what PC service is all about.

Bottom line, I wouldn't feel guilty about purchasing a Kindle for your service. The mere fact that you are acknowledging and reflecting upon your privilege and consumerism shows that you are an aware individual :)