Thu 22 Nov 2007
I have to return to Amazon’s Kindle device for a moment today, because in my last post I didn’t cover some aspects of this device I find disturbing.
Not only it is totally proprietary and binds you to Amazon as the sole source of content – it also opens up a whole new set of possibilities for privacy invasion. First, Amazon knows about all the books you’ve read. And as the device is on-line all the time through a GSM network and knows who its owner is all kinds of things are possible: from gathering detailed statistics of what you read, when you read it, how fast you do it – and what notes you scribble – to tracking your whereabouts. Since the platform is totally closed there is no way whatsoever to verify what the device does and what it doesn’t.
But not only that – it would be also possible to retroactively alter publications. It could be seen as a good idea – manuals could be updated, errors could be corrected – but it can be also used to alter history, by for example removing mentions of someone or something from a newspaper days after it was “published”. This is purely Orwellian – the Ministry of Truth was doing exactly this.
Overall, I find this whole thing and the mindset behind it highly disturbing and dangerous. This can be best exposed by pushing this idea to its limit: let’s imagine it is immensely successful and everyone has one. Then everyone has only the books that come from Amazon, pays them for the right to read, there is no second-hand book market, no libraries too and Amazon knows who was reading what. All that is totally opposite to what a traditional book is – it is yours to keep, forever, no one knows what you read – you can walk into a bookstore and buy one totally anonymously – and you can lend it or give to anyone for free.
I think, in a nutshell, monetizing on everything and locking users into a proprietary platform on which they in fact don’t own anything, just pay for the right to read, is what I find most repulsive. Circulation of the written word has been limited until recently by the physical limitations of the books and newspapers. Now Internet removes those limitations – it should be an opportunity to make more available for free. There is something inherently wrong with the idea that you have to put a dime in for any page you read, any tune you listen to or any picture you see.