Tom Gunning’s essay, ‘Re-Newing Old Technologies’, explores the transition from wondrous to ordinary by revisiting the moment of an item’s newness. In looking at the discourse around the first generation of the Amazon Kindle when it was first introduced in late 2007, the cycle of ‘dazzling’ novelty to ‘transparent’ familiarity described by Gunning is seen to have been accelerated to the point that in one review or article, praise and interest subsides into acceptance and an attitude of wondering what will come next (Gunning 39).
Commonly agreed upon by early adopters and tech reviewers, the first e-reader put forth by Amazon was not sleek, nor would it be the final word in digital reading platforms, but it was thought to revolutionize the book industry as the iPod did for music (Perenson). Both impressive and imperfect, the device was most interesting because of the digital possibilities and changes it represented in a decidedly analog industry. Its functionality was still praised along with the predictions of the Kindle to be the start of a ‘great new chapter’ for the reading experience, but before being released was already being criticized as clumsy in appearance and design (Pogue). This bright, suggested future caused as much if not more public interest, and as Gunning describes, with a device’s ‘relegation to second nature’ is the subsequent forgetting of that offered possibility as the next new things present their own (Gunning 56).
The uncanny element of new tech also discussed by Gunning permeates much of the hype regarding the release of the Kindle. Many considered it to represent the beginning of the end for the printed word, as it added subscriptions to newspapers and magazines to the digital reader realm, and this ‘uncanny foretaste of death’ contributed to drawing the public eye to the unfamiliar device (Gunning 48). A 500 year old practice represented by the printing press was faced with imminent replacement by a 10.3 oz bookshelf, bookstore, and readers became nostalgic for an industry that was not yet gone, only threatened (Schonfeld, Rothman).
‘As a guy who enjoys amassing a vast library of books and displaying them in bookcases, I am a little frightened of the future, but inevitability is the name of the game, and fear of change isn’t a good enough excuse. Will I continue to buy books or will I jump into Amazon book buying mode? That remains to be seen, but you, o early adopter, should not share my fears. The Kindle is a quality invention…’ –Wilson Rothman, from his ‘Amazon Kindle Real Life Review’ (Rothman)
A device more impressive as a stepping stone towards a possibly radical change in the reading experience, the first Amazon Kindle drew people ‘…ready to take their reading digital’, and drew attention as both a spectacle of technology and tentative possibility of an end for physical books (Perenson).
Anderson, Sam. “The Victorian IPod.” NYMag.com. New York Books, 3 Dec. 2007. Web. 31 Jan. 2015.
Gunning, Tom. Re-Newing Old Technologies: Astonishment, Second Nature, and the Uncanny in Technology from the Previous Turn-of- the-Century. PDF.
Perenson, Melissa J. “First Look: PC World: First Look at Kindle E-book Reader.” Macworld. N.p., 21 Nov. 2007. Web. 31 Jan. 2015.
Pogue, David. “An E-Book Reader That Just May Catch On.” The New York Times. N.p., 21 Nov. 2007. Web. 31 Jan. 2015.
Rothman, Wilson. “Amazon Kindle Real-Life Review.” Gizmodo. N.p., 23 Nov. 2007. Web. 31 Jan. 2015.
Schonfeld, Erick. “Liveblogging the Amazon Kindle E-Reader Show with Jeff Bezos.” TechCrunch. N.p., 19 Nov. 2007. Web. 31 Jan. 2015.