Why Hasn’t Anyone Made a Waterproof eReader?

July 3, 2013 2:07 pm Last Updated: April 24, 2016 4:41 am

My ex-wife has custody of the kids this week; we have a special summer schedule. I’m home alone. There’s so much quiet time, so much gin and tonic, so much reading, and so much writing. This is the privileged summer life of a university instructor. I curl up with one good book after another–in bed, on the sofa, in the bathtub.

Of course, I’m afraid to bring the eReader into the tub with me. Where there’s water, I’m old fashioned. It’s a simple cost benefit analysis: drop a paperback and I’m only out $14.99. My Kobo Aura HD has top features and also a hefty price tag in comparison to other eReaders. I’ll keep it dry. But I shouldn’t have to.

Most eReaders are cheap enough these days that you’d think someone would have made a waterproof one by now. Surely people would be willing to pay another $50-60 for a waterproof cahasis. Sell it right before beach season. Promote the ability to read in more places. This would be a revolutionary shift in the way we think about books. The eReader becomes a read anywhere device that goes places paper and parchment never could.  

Even if Amazon sees the market opportunity, I don’t understand how they can back themselves out of a tight metaphorical corner. Their branding is so steeped in specific elemental metaphors. Once a product is associated with flame, there’s no way to incorporate H20. It doesn’t take a Boy-Scout-bonfire-building-badge to know that moisture is antithetical to kindling; and fire and water just don’t mix.

I suppose Amazon could expand. They could make a whole line of niche readers themed around the four elements. Call them “Gaia-readers”: devices tailored to our natural inclinations around reading. The “Eden Reader” could be terra cotta colored and made from recycled plastic.  The “Breeze” would take advantage of flexible displays, or perhaps be translucent like an old time Swatch watch. And the “Reef” would be waterproof: safe for the beach and the tub, with 10% of profits donated to dolphins or blue whales or some other save-the-ocean cause. People eat that kind of marketing up like lobster at a New England clambake. They love to save sea critters.

I just want to save my eReader. Imagine twenty five books in the bath tub on one device and no fear of water damage. Add Flipboard and I’m all in. Forget the iPad, this is a product that would change the way we think about media consumption.

After all, if you think about it, media consumption hasn’t changed so much. Just as the train is more or less a faster horse, so the tablet is mostly just a faster newspaper. A ton of magazines, TV shows, movies, and books are squeezed into a plastic and glass slate, but I still can’t take it in the bathtub without buying cases or accessories. It still can’t resist my kids’ juice box spills. And taking it to the beach is like asking for a voided warranty.  Media consumption is still subject to the whims of the elements.

Our scientific-techno-modern world has, in many ways, moved beyond elemental thinking. Atoms sort of smoosh all four together. Still, the experiential realities of earth, wind, fire, and water still bear on our experience. In particular, we can hardly get away from a poetic imagination of matter.

The great French philosopher Gaston Bachelard wrote volumes exploring the role of the elements in our imaginations, our creative processes, and our epistemological constructions. Bachelard made a distinction between a traditional substance (or material) based way of knowing the world and modern science’s process (or relationship) based way. And in many cases, he showed that many of our new intellectual concepts were grounded in old and sometimes problematic constructions. Bachelard would have a blast with our modern marketing, showing us that even with all of our supposed progress, most of our stories remain consistent with the material reality of the ancients.

We haven’t changed as much as we’d like to believe. A true paradigm shift would involve innovating the way we consume information. Perhaps it could begin with a waterproof eReader.  


Jordan Shapiro is author of the pop philosophy treatise: FREEPLAY: A Video Game Guide to Maximum Euphoric Bliss and co-editor of Occupy Psyche: Jungian and Archetypal Perspectives on a Movement. For information on his upcoming books and events click here.