Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Big Brother: Amazon Remotely Deletes 1984 From Kindles: Kindle users woke up one morning to discover their copies of George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm missing with nary a trace. Amazon had pulled the e-books from their customer's e-readers and credited said user's accounts with the price of the books.

It's pretty hilarious in a sad way that this happened with 1984 of all books. 1984 was written by George Orwell back in 1949. It did not predict leg warmers, but it did paint a picture of a future in which everything people said or did was monitored and information was constantly being changed and redacted. There was also New Speak, which were new words made up like DOUBLEPLUSUNGOOD. It's an interesting read.

People compare Amazon's move to sneaking into their homes and stealing a book off their shelves while leaving a cheque on the table. Amazon caved to a publisher that decided against providing an electronic version of their book and... hoped no one would notice? Maybe. They could have at least left a note with the cheque, after all. That was the first news story I read about digital books that twigged my interest.

Next up: A private school in Massachusetts decides to get rid of all their books in favour of e-books. They not only got rid of the books and replaced them with e-readers - the Headmaster thought books were 'outdated technology' - they also decided to put in some TVs and a pricey coffee bar as well, because that's just what you need around expensive electronics: beverages.

So is this the way of the future? Will traditional libraries be replaced by digital ones? No, I don't think so. It might work for Cushing because Cushing has money. Sharing eighteen e-readers (Kindles and Sonys) seems pretty stupid; however, every student at Cushing has a laptop. When I mentioned this story to my mother, she blandly added, "They probably have two, in different colours." So if everybody has a laptop, everybody can access this library. All good, right?

As long as the format for e-books remains reliable, they should be fine. Personally, I remember replacing my cassette tapes with CDs and my VHS movies with DVDs; before that, my parents were replacing records and 8-Tracks with cassette tapes and debating whether they should buy a VHS or BETA player. All this change took place over a relatively short period of time, and technology keeps changing. My friends are replacing their favourite movies on DVD with the new Blu-Ray versions. I intend to sit it out and wait until I'm sure Blu-Ray is sticking around a while, but I only got rid of the last of my videotapes earlier this year. (A guy named Donald Smith mentions format changes in the comments section of one Cushing story. He seems pretty impressive, which is why I'm going to try to use his comment as a primary source in the assignment I'm turning in on Cushing's decision for my class.)

Part of me, the part that has to salvage information from my freshly-wrecked hard drives every few years, wonders where the copies are 'stored'. I don't have an e-reader of my own, so I don't know how it works. I know that when I buy a song with iTunes, I'm only allowed to authorize a finite number of computers to play it. That bugs me a lot, since I figure it's my property and I should be able to do what I want with it. (So I make back ups, converting the format from m4p to mp3 so it, uh... all has the same format.) Blah blah blah related topic but back to the original. How many downloads does the school get to have? I assume they're going to keep it in some central database, hopefully with backups. It'd be a shame to lose all that due to a misplaced magnet. (Not that a fridge magnet is going to do damage.)

Would it work for other schools and libraries? Probably not, no. An important concept of public libraries is the accessibility of their information, meant to lessen the divide between the haves and the have-nots. Not everyone has a laptop. Many libraries now have computers for use, but it's like sharing around those eighteen e-readers: the main content of a library is still going to be the physical books. The technology needed to read a traditional book hasn't changed in centuries, though it has evolved things braille and audiobooks that help the sight-impaired enjoy books. Maybe digital books are good for the paper-impaired.


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