Friday, March 25, 2011

When the Kindle screen goes blank

Yes, I admit I felt foolish this morning when my Kindle froze and I had no idea what to do.

I don’t mean I had no idea what to do from a technical standpoint. I was confident even in those first few seconds that a trick to unlocking a frozen Kindle would be easy to find on the customer support section of

I just mean I’d forgotten what I used to do when my reading material didn’t shine off a screen.

It sounds ridiculous; I’ve been reading for more than 40 years, and only the past five months have been from a Kindle. But my Kindle is superloaded with reading material these days: my newspaper subscriptions, novels from the top of the New York Times bestseller lists, magazines, works of nonfiction, reference books, even articles and long emails from friends that I’ve pdf’d and sent into my Kindle directory.

So when the screen froze in the middle of the story about Mike Tyson from last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine while I was only a third of the way through my morning workout on my stationary bike, I momentarily froze along with it. Racking my brain as I continued to pedal, I couldn’t think of where in the house I had any reading material that I particularly wanted to dive into, mid-workout.

The fact that I was having something of an Andy Rooney moment did not escape me. While it’s true that during the many years I subscribed to the print version of the daily newspaper, there was the occasional morning that the paper didn’t appear on my doorstep because the deliverer was incapacitated or simply because the paper was under a snowbank, when that happened, I would just pick a book from the stack on my nightstand, or grab a magazine from the pile of mail on the kitchen table. The problem with the Kindle, I realized as I forged ahead with my biking regimen, was that it was the quintessential all-my-eggs-in-one-basket scenario. It wasn’t just that the morning paper had been suddenly rendered inaccessible; it was that every piece of reading material I’d selected in the past five months was now inoperable. Who ever heard of a technical malfunction keeping you from being able to read? I asked myself bemusedly, but also fully aware that the irreversible pull that mobile technology has over me had led directly to this quandary.

The only thing that gets me through my daily 45-minute stationary bike workout 7 days a week is that I so enjoy the chance to read while I’m doing it. As the minutes ticked by and my Kindle showed no sign of reactivating itself, I started to feel fatigued and bored long before the workout was scheduled to end. I tried to think of what books I had in the house that would keep my mind occupied for another 25 minutes or so. There was a copy of Camping for Dummies in the library bag, checked out earlier this month in hopes that it would motivate me to start planning a summer vacation. Somewhere in the kitchen there was a cooking magazine or two. I could read the Crate & Barrel catalog that arrived with yesterday’s mail. None of those sounded nearly as appealing as continuing with the Mike Tyson saga whose contents had apparently been sordid enough to crash my Kindle.

Just as I contemplated dashing into my 12-year-old’s room to grab a Guinness Book of World Records that might pass the time for five or six minutes, my Kindle flickered back to life, with today’s Boston Globe at the top of its directory. I grabbed for it and began scanning through the headlines, then toggled back to the Mike Tyson story, then hungrily checked to be sure all my other ebook files were still in place.

They were, and I don’t particularly blame my Kindle. The technology is still new; one bug in five months doesn’t seem so bad to me. I started reading again and made it through the rest of my workout. But I’d learned my lesson. From now on, I’ll definitely keep a back issue or two of the newspaper by my bike in case it happens again.

If only I could remember where to buy a newspaper.

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