Making Books Disappear

12 04 2009

A few months ago, I posted here about the dangers I saw in the Amazon Kindle and the rise of digital publishing—namely that as we move our books and other media from a printed to a digital format, we increase the odds that they can be altered or even deleted without our consent and possibly without our knowledge.

censorship

It’s a bit of a paranoid thesis, but I think it moved closer to reality today when it was revealed that Amazon had “reclassified” a whole slew of books dealing with LGBT issues—from gay romances to academic works on the impact of homophobia to Heather has Two Mommies—as “adult” and thus removing them from some searches, sales rankings and bestseller lists on Amazon.com.

That Amazon chose to reclassify books with any sort of gay theme—be it academic, literary, or journalistic—but not those with much more explicit heterosexual content is blatantly homophobic and certainly worthy of discussion. But what I’m more concerned about is the creeping corporate control over the flow of information and ideas.

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Amazon Kindle = Privacy FAIL

9 02 2009

Everyone’s abuzz about the Kindle, Amazon’s handheld reading device that lets users read “what you want, when you want it” by getting books, magazines and newspapers delivered wirelessly in less than 60 seconds. The second incarnation of the Kindle, released today, weights 10.2 ounces and can hold more than 1,500 books. “No longer pick and choose which books fit in your carry-on,” the Amazon site exclaims. “Now you have your entire library with you.”

censorship

Not so fast. Leaving aside for a moment that the Kindle’s very name is weirdly evocative of book burning, consider that for everything we gain with a Kindle—convenience, selection, immediacy—we’re losing something too. The printed word—physically printed, on paper, in a book—might be heavy, clumsy or out of date, but it also provides a level of permanence and privacy that no digital device will ever be able to match.

In the past, restrictive governments had to ban whole books whose content was deemed too controversial, inflammatory or seditious for the masses. But then at least you knew which books were being banned, and, if you could get your hands on them, see why. Censorship in the age of the Kindle will be more subtle, and much more dangerous.

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