the best argument against the Kindle

There’s a boilerplate article about new reading technology: you commission an ancient writerly type to trial the thing, encouraging them to make self-deprecating remarks about their bumblefingered relation to technology and their innate love of leather bindings. (I always end up visualising a hypothetical encounter between, say, Normal Mailer and an early computer, circa 1971, in which Mailer denounces the clunky box as a piece of impudence cooked up by New York liberals to destroy the natural, manly clack of fingers on the typewriter. But maybe that’s just me.) Anyway, Nicholson Baker does the ‘Meet the Kindle’ article better the most — and along the way makes a compelling argument against its adoption. Apparently, this devil machine talks like Tom Hanks!

Reading some of “Max,” a James Patterson novel, I experimented with the text-to-speech feature. The robo-reader had a polite, halting, Middle European intonation, like Tom Hanks in “The Terminal,” and it was sometimes confused by periods. Once it thought “miss.” was the abbreviation of a state name: “He loved the chase, the hunt, the split-second intersection of luck and skill that allowed him to exercise his perfection, his inability to Mississippi.” I turned the machine off.

Now, there’s something charming about a computer confusing ‘miss’ and ‘Mississippi’ (right up to the time it locks you out of the spaceship). But Tom Hanks? Not so much!

So, once again, a question for Overland readers: who should do the Kindle voice? I was intially thinking Sean Connery (‘Shplendid, Miss Moneypenny’) and then Patti Smith (‘Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine!’) before realising that there’s only one set of vocal cords I want articulating my digital literature. My choice is here. But who, dear readers, would you nominate?

Jeff Sparrow

Jeff Sparrow is a Walkley Award-winning writer, broadcaster and former editor of Overland.

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