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Click meets mortar

Click meets mortar
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First Published: Tue, Oct 04 2011. 08 57 PM IST

Digital to analogue: India Post allows you to post letters online and ensures the recipients get printouts
Digital to analogue: India Post allows you to post letters online and ensures the recipients get printouts
Updated: Tue, Oct 04 2011. 08 57 PM IST
Afew days ago Amazon’s Jeff Bezos unveiled several new models of the Kindle electronic book reader. The Kindle has come a long a way since that first, clunky, ungainly model they launched way back in 2007. (Come on! Four years in human time is 400 in gadget-years.)
I really began to warm up to the Kindle when the second-generation model was released in 2009. The Kindle 2 was a huge leap in refinement from the first iteration, bringing the device some much-needed simplicity, symmetry and structural smoothness. It was good to look at, but not so much that you became conscious of the device while using it. The Kindle 2 had the ability to really let you immerse yourself in a book. Not just by diminishing everything but the screen, but also by trying to get out of the way between you and your book.
Digital to analogue: India Post allows you to post letters online and ensures the recipients get printouts
The Kindle 2 set the stage for the superb Kindle 3. For the last 12 months I’ve done at least half—possibly much more—of all my reading on a Kindle 3. Everything from crime novels to cookbooks, newspapers, magazines, magazine articles bookmarked on the Web and even an entire day’s worth of cricket commentary, using the rudimentary Web browser.
Now, I like the printed book as much as anybody. Despite the fact that the Kindle is quickly becoming as indispensable for me as my mobile phone, I still love lingering in a book store. And I continue to visit a local library at least monthly. There is something therapeutic about books on a shelf.
Yet there is also something entirely satisfying in the way that the time gap between wanting a book and reading it on a Kindle is rarely more than a minute. It is truly a moment of magic when you click on the buy button and then, moments later, an entire book of 250, 500 or 1,000 pages is yours to carry around with you (have I ever bought a book just to experience the thrill of that instant download? Maybe. Once or twice. Or more. Tee hee).
Of all the things that television science programmes promised me in my childhood, the electronic book reader has, without doubt, best lived up to expectations. So few of the other things that were supposed to become ubiquitous in the future ever did: Virtual reality, electric cars, personal energy generation and electronic smart clothing all continue to stay largely in the realm of possibility.
Fifteen or 20 years ago, if you’d asked a younger and thinner me, I would have confidently said that the electronic book would be the least probable of innovations. Everything else—cars, clothes, light bulbs—seemed more fungible than the book.
And yet here we are.
It is particularly beautiful, and satisfying, when new technology works not against but with old ones. I am sure at least a few of you have used India Post’s ePost facility. EPost is essentially a digital-to-analogue service where you post your letters online and India Post delivers a printout to the recipients anywhere in the world. At Rs 10 per A4-size page, that is not a bad deal at all (an A4-size sheet of typed text can convey a lot).
If you’d like to give it a go, go to http://www.indiapost.nic.in. Don’t forget the mildly trippy PSU-quality animation of an airplane on the home page.
Last week I decided to test a more modern iteration of this service. There are at least two companies that provide ingenious iPhone-to- postcard services.
Now I know this sounds odd. Why use a powerful, multimedia-enabled mobile phone to send a postcard? But I can think of so many reasons. First of all, who doesn’t like getting a postcard? A postcard says “I was doing something nice when I suddenly thought of you. This is to let you know...” (unlike a letter which often says: “Sit down. We need to talk...”).
Second, is there a better way to create a daily, visual record of your travels? One postcard a day sent to your home address. Boom, a small travelogue with pictures.
Postcard On The Run (POTR) is an app that has been in the news lately. Simply take a photo on your iOS or Android phone, add a message and address, pay with a credit card, and that is all. Your postcard is on its way to a recipient anywhere in the world. Postcards cost between $0.99 (around Rs 49) and $1.69 (Rs 83), and there are several interesting options, including the ability to add a little map of your location.
As I was sending it to an address in the UK, I used the Postcards app by UKMail instead. UKMail is a provider of business mailing services. But they have a simple phone-to-postcard service as well (and it is cheaper than POTR for UK addresses).
A few days after I sent a picture of a little seaside panorama, the recipient excitedly called me up. You could sense the joy in her voice. “Oh my God! A postcard!”
Books in your hand in a flash. Letters sent from a computer. Postcards posted from a phone. This may not be the future we were promised. But this is a wonderful future nonetheless.
Write to Sidin at businessoflife@livemint.com
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First Published: Tue, Oct 04 2011. 08 57 PM IST