Friday, July 24, 2009

Amazon.com is Watching You

House of Usher--under construc...
Location: Richmond Island's House of Usher Build

As I make prims fit and have fun with Photoshop designing textures, all so we can beta-test this simulation next semester, something that would have given Poe even more nightmares has happened.

Anyone following tech news knows how Amazon.com reached into Kindle owners' machines without their knowledge to remove copies of Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm. How appropriate and how unfortunately ham-fisted for a company that should know better.

Printed books have this power: ownership. It will be a long time before I buy an e-reader of any sort. Although a company spokesman noted that the company will not do this again, Amazon needs to provide a legally binding contract to Kindle owners stating that it will never do this again.

The power of a major corporation to erase works of literature in an increasingly paperless world is terrifying. There's not much of a leap from that to a totalitarian state erasing our books.

Make mine paper: I'll be reading Mervin Peake's Gormennghast tonight, in a thick edition that includes all three of the Gormennghast novels. And Barnes and Noble cannot come and seize it, nor can Uncle Sam, without a major domestic incident and quite likely, violence. Books are worth dying for.

As for Poe? I had planned to offer my students the option of downloading "The Fall of the House of Usher," in a free Kindle edition, instead of buying the Penguin Classic edition. Now they'll have to buy the paperback and I'll use it as a lesson about how fragile knowledge can be, when others control it.

3 comments:

Elaine said...

I've been along for the e-book ride since 1994 with the dawn of PDFs. I've been way up there with the accessibility and universal access of the PDF and now way down there with the dratted publishers who want to lock books up so tight they can only be viewed one way by one person. It is a harsh contrast with a paperback which I can do almost anything with. I hope they figure it out one day. I refuse to buy a Kindle because I see it evolving into just another laptop and what's the point in that? Also, this whole book deleting thing is way scary.

Tenchi Morigi said...

yes. incidents like this one should give you enough to think about.
I am reading good old fashioned books in the subway every morning and seeing the kids with their ipods and audio books or even worse mobile dvd players (yes no joke ... I have seen that ... and more then once) gives me the creeps.

But even with books that cannot be seized from us now, one should always remember that Fahrenheidt 451 is also just lingering around the corner.

Viv Trafalgar said...

I love my books. I collect them. I know where they all live in my house. I give people who are helping me move a serious case of 'you're joking right?' when they see the wall of book boxes waiting for them.

And I love the convenience of being able to carry one piece of technology with a lot of books on it (with the illusion that these are then my books as well). One of my students long ago had a degenerative condition that made lugging textbooks impossible. She had a very early version of something like the Kindle and it was an amazing thing for her; it made accessible sense.

Sadly, the following are now also true:

- Keeping my own physical copy of a book now becomes a statement of preservation.

- The question of who owns a particular copy of a published work now seems destined for the same court as Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. (and literature is just the latecomer to the question - the music industry having already staked out the front row.)

And a question pesters me. If Amazon could, unasked and unasking, take a purchased item back from a digital collection, we should in similar fashion be able to return electronic books we've purchased for a full refund, yes? It's not like they've become dogeared...