The Navy doesn’t allow iPads on submarines; they’re too dangerous. Spies could use the camera to record inside, and cell signals could betray its location when it surfaces. Similar precautions apply to Kindles and other e-readers. If a service member wants to read, he needs to go to the miniature onboard library and check out a book.
That’s about to change. The Navy’s General Library Program just announced the NeRD, or Navy eReader Device. It’s an an E Ink tablet that resembles a Kindle, except it has no internet capability, no removable storage, and no way to add or delete content.
"What would be considered limiting [for] the technology is actually perfecting the device for its designated audience," says Findaway World, which built the e-reader. Findaway is also the US military’s exclusive supplier of audiobooks.
Each reader is preloaded with 300 books that will never change
The Navy’s library program has ebooks and audiobooks available online for service members and their families. The e-reader came about after they requested the same access on ships. "Since we have the digital product available while sailors are on shore, we wanted to find a way to get digital accessibility while sailors are on ships," says Nilya Carrato, program assistant for the library program. "They can keep 300 books that would have taken up their entire library locker in their pocket now."
The Navy is making 365 devices at first, with more to follow. The Navy plans to send about five to each submarine to be shared between multiple people. Each reader is preloaded with 300 books that will never change. The selection includes modern fiction like Tom Clancy and James Patterson, who are popular in the Navy, as well as nonfiction, the classics, and "a lot of naval history," says Carrato.
The library program is supposed to make sailors feel more at home when they’re abroad. But the limited selection — a small subset of the Navy’s 108,000 digital library titles — reflects the military’s culture of imposed discipline. iPads, Kindles, and Nooks would also allow sailors to download whatever titles they want (although finding an internet signal would still be a challenge). The NeRD lets the Navy control their reading habits just as it does with their diet and sleep schedule.
In other words, entertainment in the military is not unlike it is in prison: there are many restrictions on the few options available to break up the monotony of the daily routine. But at least sailors now have a higher-tech option for reading up on naval history.