… the Kindle’s very name is weirdly evocative of book burning …
The printed word — physically printed, on paper, in a book — might be heavy, clumsy or out of date, but it also provides a level of permanence and privacy that no digital device will ever be able to match.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 …. Censorship in the age of the Kindle will be more subtle, and much more dangerous.
Consider what might happen if a scholar releases a book … exclusively in a digital format. The US government … determines that certain passages amount to national security threat, and sends Amazon and the publisher national security letters demanding the offending passages be removed. Now not only will anyone who purchases the book get the new, censored copy, but anyone who had bought the book previously and then syncs their Kindle with Amazon — to buy another book, pay a bill, whatever — will, probably unknowingly, have the old version replaced by the new, “cleaned up” version on their device. The original version was never printed, and now it’s like it didn’t even exist. What’s more, the government now has a list of everyone who downloaded both the old and new versions of the book.
Nicholas Carr at Britannica thinks the issue has some merit:
One of the things that happens when books and other writings start to be distributed digitally through web-connected devices like the Kindle is that their text becomes provisional. Automatic updates can be sent through the network to edit the words stored in your machine – similar to the way that, say, software on your PC can be updated automatically today.
The unanticipated side effects of new technologies often turn out to be their most important effects. Printed words are permanent. Electronic words are provisional. The difference is vast and the implications worth pondering.
Andrew Sullivan sees it a bit differently:
My last book, whose first print run was bollixed by HarperCollins, would have been salvageable.
Image by Mike Licht. Download a copy here. Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com
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