Kindle Fire is Aflame

Nearly 60 years ago, sci-fi scribe Ray Bradbury put the “lit” in literature when he opened his dystopian exploration of censorship?Fahrenheit 451?with the memorable line “It was a pleasure to burn.” In the classic fable of a world without books, “firemen” of the future pump kerosene onto pulp, thus keeping dangerous ideas from impressionable minds. (In an ironic turn, Bradbury’s book was eventually banned itself.) Now where there’s smoke, there’s also Amazon’s latest addition of its e-reader line of products, the Kindle Fire.

Unlike those in Bradbury’s tome, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos isn’t trying to do away with the dissemination of ideas so much as make it easier, or at least make easy money while making it easier, while obviating the need for print editions. Lauded as the first serious rival to Apple’s iPad, the Kindle Fire is also a tablet device, competitively priced at around $200, about half the price of an entry-level iPad. This has led some to conjecture that Amazon’s device is a loss-leader in the same manner that low mobile-phone prices are subsidized by their calling plans. If this is true, the use of ye olde “give them the razor, sell them the blades” business model suggests that once again content is king.

Using 2010 sales data from major publishing houses, last March,?Publishers Weekly?released a study that indicated that ebooks are turning as many heads as digital pages. “Many top-selling authors on the 2010 hardcover chart are among the e-book top-sellers, including Stieg Larsson’s?The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, with electronic sales of 775,000 compared to 1.9 million in print,” wrote Daisy Maryles. This bodes well not only for the usual suspects of bestsellers lists but for newbies, who aren’t often invited to the print party.

The advantages of ebook publishing are manifold?it’s cheap, the barrier to entry is low and there’s no dearth of old and new content flooding into the ubiquitous ePub format. A universal electronic text platform, ePub was devised by the International Digital Publishing Forum as a “reflowable” device “agnostic” ebook standard, meaning it formats itself to whatever format one uses, from an Apple iOS device to Google’s Android or anything in between. It’s the mp3 of books.

Given its price point and symbiotic relationship with the world’s largest bookseller, the Kindle Fire and its e-reader brethren are both fanning the flames of retail-reading and hosing some much-welcomed kerosene onto the publishing biz. Surely, print die-hards will balk at the notion of reading on a digital device, but as Robert Frost wrote, “I hold with those who favor fire.”

Cloud Writing: How to Use the Cloud as a Writer

Skywriting by Word of Mouth was a posthumously published book of prose penned by John Lennon that I was gifted a quarter-century ago. It was writing born of an anarchic love of language that sufficed as depth when I was 14 and sometimes still haunts me. Well, at least its title haunts me.

When general awareness of so-called “cloud” computing burst into media consciousness in recent years, I couldn’t help but think of Lennon’s book title and it’s reference to skywriting. Though the term is usually reserved for daredevils with an airplane, it’s become my personal metaphor for writing directly into the “cloud.” Whether that was with Google Docs, or ever increasingly, Evernote, the idea of putting words into some ephemeral-sounding digital mist appeals to me.

Moreover, I can access it anywhere and on any device. Now, moments otherwise lost waiting for the train or between bouts with baristas for refills could be productive. I could “skywrite” my columns, my blogs, bits of books, scenes in screenplays when I would otherwise be twiddling my thumbs, or more likely, using my thumbs to scroll through the Facebook or in engaging some other digital distraction.

Cloud Writing by Word of Mouth

Now, my thumbs are producers, world class hacks, hunting and pecking these very words you’re reading. What’s interesting to me is that writing to the cloud makes the creative act both incidental and opportunistic — with the right device in hand (an iPhone in this case), writing is like spackle filling the fissures in one’s schedule. Many a colleague might bristle that I’ve not ennobled the act of writing with it’s own appointment in my Google Calendar. Mind you, I do occasionally make a date with the muse but as a man with a toddler and a full-time career writing hokum on the clock, I have to let any “extracurricular” writing spring like weeds from the cracks in the concrete.

Writing into the cloud allows me to do this into a single document, always waiting for me in the sky when inspiration strikes. Of course, the cloud is just a server farm in an air-conditioned warehouse but by the same token, one’s muse is more neurochemistry than a visitation from the divine but we can romance it all the same.

Of course, I haven’t yet bothered to extend the cloud metaphor to its logical conclusions, namely the various forms of digital precipitation that might occur if Google flipped the wrong switch. Would words rain from the heavens? Not likely, but the waterworks would be real for me and thousands of other bawling scribes who entrusted their work to a couple of Stanford dropouts in Mountain View.

This is where a healthy denial mechanism is useful. Having lost an opus or two to various snafus (I once watched the lone copy of a terrible play I’d written wash out to sea), one might think I’d reconsider my precious “skywriting” notion and commit everything to good old pen and ink. Try emailing a page from a notebook sometime. I try to keep about a hundred miles between me an my editors for safety’s sake, so emailing is the only option for deadline writers like myself. And if by some miracle particle physics I was able to email my handwritten scrawl it would be unintelligible anyway. My carefully-keyed missives are borderline as is, so I don’t want to push it. For now, I’ll keep putting my words in the sky and hope they don’t get lost amongst the Lucy’s and the diamonds.