Given that Amazon’s Kindle has recently crossed the e-reader Rubicon, an ongoing price war is about to take center stage. Evolution is rearing its undiscriminating head as it surveys the ebook playing field and finds Gutenberg’s centuries-old invention to be wanting. True, the e-reader market has yet to reach its full potential, barely making its presence felt in the so-called First World countries. But where mass adoption of a potentially global norm takes place in these parts, the rest of the world seems to follow suit. We’ve seen this phenomenon happen a few times before: the time email coined the phrase ‘snail mail,’ the time that Google became a verb, and more recently, the time that Facebook and Hollywood started appearing in the same sentence.
Erstwhile presidential candidate Dick Gordon, aside from dancing with the likes of internet sensations Moymoy Palaboy, will probably be remembered as the man who introduced the Kindle to the Philippines. If elected, he promised, he’d give every student of this country a Kindle. Back then - and when I say back then, I mean less than a year ago - this seemed an impossibility despite Gordon’s stalwart claims of feasibleness. In a few months time however, after the dust has settled from the e-reader price wars, it’d be a crime for the present Administration to ignore the promise of Gordon’s idea.
Today, the cheapest Kindle costs $139. Even cellphones - which resemble rice as a staple commodity in the Philippines - are more expensive! If we wait for a few months, this might even go lower as analysts predict the dawn of an ebook renaissance (or, if you’re shaking your head in disbelief, a paradigm-shift) in the coming years. Considering that public libraries are a joke, that this too suffers from the ‘tragedy of the commons,’ that the budget for education is mostly devoted to infrastructure and teacher training rather than in increasing the system’s pedagogic value, a government investment of this magnitude has the potential to improve the educational system by leaps and bounds rather than by simple staircase steps. Even the Kindle’s use for non-educational purposes has the collateral effect of allowing the student to learn grammar and syntax - a definite plus to a country that claims to be the best in having adopted English as a native language. Though issues concerning intellectual property rights and the perpetual use of content would seem to discourage the device’s adoption by content-makers, I don’t think that this should bar its acceptance as a tool that could very well change the course of our waning educational system for this decade and beyond.
Endnote: The Kindle (Amazon), the Nook (Barnes & Nobles), and the iPad (Apple) are today’s prominent contenders for the e-reader platform crown. Though other ‘readers’ are about to penetrate the market, the most prominent of which being Android-based tablets, these seem to target the iPad as a platform rather than e-books in general. So for purposes of this article, my choice of the Kindle for the Philippines is based on the current crop of movers and shakers in the ebook world, reserving the right to change said choice upon the entry of a more specific, more cost-effective Android e-reader in the very near future. Oh and I apologize for the seeming duplication of subject matter with the next preceding entry. I had already finished writing the article when I saw Linus' post! My bad.