Monday, July 27, 2009

Are electronic books mere "Kindling"?

The “Kindle” name for Amazon’s portable electronic reading device is suddenly leading to some frightening associations.

They stem from Amazon’s recent deleting of sold copies of Orwell’s “1984” from customers’ Kindles. Seems the electronic copies were sold by a bookseller who didn’t have the rights to Orwell’s classic.

The episode reveals that “buyers” of Kindle books are really lessees of them, and Amazon can cancel the lease at any time.

In the world of real books, of course, what you buy is what you own — and can sell. (Local note: that's why our Hillsdale used book sale was such a success yesterday.)

It turns out that a Kindle’s content is, as they say, “tethered” to Amazon. It might be more accurate to say that Amazon customers themselves are tethered to the retailer because the Seattle-based on-line merchandiser has a direct line to data about customers’ buying (and reading) habits. To say nothing of their credit card numbers.

That’s scary enough. But here is a technology that is frighteningly Orwellian, hence the irony that Orwell’s “1984” was the deleted book. How Big Brother would have loved to have the power Amazon does.

If this technology supplants real books and falls into the wrong hands, books and the free expression of ideas in “print,” are doomed. They can be expunged at the push of a button in some governmental, or corporate, “Ministry of Truth.”

The name “Kindle” in this context brings to mind another classic on the subject of thought control: Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” in which mass book burnings forced “renegade” scholars and historians to memorize books in order to preserve them.

Of course computers also “memorize” books — until they don’t.

Labels: , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home