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J Hart F

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Kindle: Modern or Post-Modern?

Is the Kindle a step in modernism despite its postmodern exterior? Even asking the question raises two distinct needs: Modernism and Postmodernism... what the heck are these? Furthermore, which area is being defined: literature or technology, communication or ownership? Looking in all of these areas may help to create an understanding of a categorical placement for the Kindle in the scheme of modernism versus postmodernism.

Modernism has four major values which arose during the Industrial Revolution: "celebrating the individual, believing in rational order, working efficiently, and rejecting tradition" (Campbell et. al, Media and Culture, Boston 2009). It is also characterized as a cultural movement against the Enlightenment thinking, "in which reason was advocated as the primary source of legitimacy and authority" (, 2010). On the other hand, there are four major values which seemingly define the cultural thinking towards Postmodernism: "opposing hierarchy, diversifying and recycling culture, questioning scientific reasoning, and embracing paradox" (Campbell et. al, Media and Culture, Boston 2009). It is also defined as "a style and concept in the arts characterized by distrust in theories and ideologies and by the drawing of attention to convention" (Compact Oxford English Dictionary 2010).

Now the question remains: is the Kindle a modern or postmodern utility. As a device, it exudes postmodernism in its very form. The mingling of technology with a more basic construction and forcing individuals to purchase the data on another device in the form of a data download off the internet is a perfect example of postmodernism as it relates to media convergence and the appropriation of multiple technologies to simply read a book. These steps force the individual to break away from the norms and embrace diverse means. Furthermore, the business hierarchy, in regards to publishing, is a slap in the face to the larger publishing houses who grip the market firmly (in regards to fiction, poetry, fantasy, science-fiction, and the classics). Amazon and the Kindle allow the author to publish her works without the necessity of contracts with publishing houses or relying on agents to do the work.

However, this device has a stronghold on its own market. Sure there is the Sony Reader and other devices that do the same thing, but the Kindle seems to be the one people cling to in conversations, to criticize about their business practices, to claim is the new trophy of postmodernism. Doesn't the Kindle set itself apart as the individual, the item that will help everyone keep all their books together on one device, to be unique and accessible? Isn't Amazon attempting to entice people to use the Kindle as a means of working efficiently when it relates to books, novels, and reading in general? Don't they want everyone to reject the tradition of buying books in hardback or paperback form and accept the Kindle as a new and rational step in the progress of humanity as it relates to technology? Perhaps the Kindle is actually a tool of modernism and not so much the icon of postmodernism then.

What does this mean then? Is the use of buying of books the new symbolic action of postmodernism? Or perhaps going back to checking books out form the library then? Is resisting the Kindle a postmodern act, by rejecting the authority of Amazon and embracing the old cultural norm of reading from a paperback book?

What do you think? I can't help buy think of both levels of the Kindle and therefore place the Kindle in the postmodern category, because it forces us to think about the contexts and question maybe sociological meanings of the Kindle in contemporary society.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, but people can check out electronic books from the library.

    I would have to disagree and argue that the Kindle is modern. From what I can tell so far, Amazon is attempting to monopolize book publishing. And I am not sure there is anything more modern than a monopoly.