You see them on the subway, being cradled like precious gems, with tenderness. In waiting rooms and coffeeshops, they can be found, receiving a loving gaze from their affluent owners. This expensive object represents, for some, a paperless future, one in which we humans, potentially, are gentler in our usage of finite lumber resources. But that story is, it would seem, not the whole story. The Kindle, or your preferred brand of electronic reading (the iPad, the Nook), may not use paper, but it does other limited and politically-controversial resources: energy and metal.
“[I]t takes almost exactly fifty times as much fossil fuel production to power an iPad for the hours it takes to read a book as it would take to read the same book on paper by electric light,” writes Ted Genoways, the editor of The Virginia Quarterly Review. His introduction to the current issue, which focuses on mining and its consequences around the world, is worth reading.
The article exposes the unseen costs of popular products that have taken the American market by storm. Much of the discourse surrounding electronic devices like the Kindle has been about the threat to the livelihoods of bookstores and publishers. But read the VQR essay and you’ll see there’s more at stake when these products become the darling of American consumerism.