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Book burning v3.0 made easy with Kindle

Jul 25th, 2009 by blog | 0
by mithrandir3

by mithrandir3

Amazon’s e-book reader, Kindle, has just become a whole lot more convenient, not for the owner that is, but for steering the stupid masses towards the good of humanity. By deleting sold e-books from the Kindle devices due to copyright-issues of the digital publishers, Amazon has “generated waves of online pique” according to The New York Times. Although Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, apologized later for deleting the illegally sold copies of the e-books in a forums discussion entry and called the ” ‘solution’ to the problem [..] stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles”. It might have been an action free from censorship ambitions, but it shows that the mechanisms are in place to eliminate unwanted books.

Books are “a pleasure to burn. It [is] a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed.” as Guy Montag, the “fireman” in Farenheit 451, knows. But the act of burning books in reality is generally less pleasurable because widely unaccepted and very unpopular these days. How convenient that the new technology can make books “disappear” clean and easy, without huge arguments by the hysterical book-owner, without even being there. Remotely and and with full refund can books be dropped down the memory hole – book burning v2.0.

But why burn them? Burning implies nasty things about an increasingly censorship-hungry “system” and does not make creative use of the associations we have with books to begin with. Why not instead tweak the content of a book as desired and bring the past up-to-date as suggested by Nineteen Eighty-Four (incidentally one of the books deleted). Books still have a status of trustworthiness, in our minds they are a silent witness of the invariable truth of our collective memory because once published the content did not change. Well, that’s all in the past that is. Nowadays, Amazon updates books without warning to bring them up-to-date to the newest edition. If this new edition removes spelling errors or adjusts the content to a more … can not be controlled. As rrabbit noted, if Amazon wants “Oceania [is] at war with Eurasia: Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia” until tomorrow when Amazon updates the books to say that Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia instead and that Eurasia is our trusted ally — has always been. The need to burn books has ceased to exist (if it ever had in the first place), because undesirable content can be rewritten on-the-fly — embrace book burning v3.0, made possible with Kindle.

But it is not the technology that is evil, the effort of saving trees and gallons of fuel by distributing books online must be applauded and so the aim of providing editing-error free books. Even the act of deleting illegally sold books is not shocking in itself, if Amazon would have knocked on every buyers door and would have swapped the illegal copy with a legal one from a different publisher, no-one would have second guessed Amazon. But it is the combination of technological possibility and questionable intentions or judgements of a company that lets the darkest dystopian fiction seem plausible: who would not start to doubt ones mental health if facts start to dissolve before ones very own eyes.

Amazon has demonstrated of being capable to commit book-burning v2.0 if convenient (letting books disappear). They have the technology in place of burning books v3.0 (updating the content unnoticed). I am not convinced that Amazon has enough integrity to withstand the pressure of a government endorsed censorship to tweak the by then unwanted content. Next time when you hold a Kindle, be prepared to read nothing but government approved propaganda.

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