Wanted: Better Cliches to Describe the Kindle

kindle paperwhiteCracking open a book is a familiar phrase that describes reading a text for the first time, but cracking open a Kindle (or iPad) is an alarming turn of events that will surely turn a good day into a bad day filled with customer-service phone calls.

Advancements in technology are great, but what happens when advancements in descriptive cliches don’t keep pace?

OK, so you know I’m just having fun with doomsday rhetorical questions, but in all seriousness, I find myself searching for non-robotic ways to describe reading an e-book. Can’t crack it open, can’t dog-ear it, can’t turn pages, can’t describe the pages as well-worn. You can sort-of judge an e-book by its cover, even though you don’t see the cover other than when buying it.

But technically, you’re judging a book by its JPEG. That has a ring to it, but definitely not the right one. I suppose you could say you’re “firing up your Kindle” instead of cracking it open, but the Kindle flicks on with a shrug, not a grand event.

“Turning on” a book doesn’t quite capture the experience either, and “opening” a book sounds too plain, too bland. And I guess you could curl up with your iPad (feels weird to say) or Kindle (feels slightly less weird, but still not a home run). So, will we eventually develop handy cultural shorthand for interacting with e-books?

The cheeky, writer-ly answer to this question is that we should all be grateful for the chance to ditch these pesky, print-bound cliches, even if they conjure pleasant memories.

I don’t want to entirely ditch them though. The cliches are comforting. (I’d like to use them in a book review blog posts, from time to time…) They capture the cozy, personal feeling of owning an old copy of a book, or flipping through the unmarred pages of a new book.

Of course, books aren’t the only formerly physical objects that have been undergone a transition to electronic. Music is several years ahead of books in the Great Transition, but I’m not super aware of all the language that was used to describe records and cassette tapes. I wonder if we’ve developed some new vocabulary around electronic versions of music, something that I’m not aware of because I keep listening to playlists I made five years ago. And I wonder if we’ll develop a way to capture the cozy, personal vocabulary of print books in electronic form. I hope so.

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