Saturday, March 28, 2009

It's Mine, All Mine

I admit that I was tempted, when I read about the new Kindle. I had been reading about it and then I saw one a few weeks ago. See What is the Floss?. I'm a committed techie after all. I lust for the newest gadget. In fact, I always have to look for a new gadget to lust for.

Other than the ouch price of the Kindle -- $359, which merely gives you the e-book reader, which then allows you read books/magazines once you've purchased them for an additional cost, my biggest beef with the Kindle is the fact that you can't share what you have on it. If I "buy" an e-book or magazine, I want to be able to pass it on, much the same way I do now with hard copies.

As my husband & I discussed the other day, I can't even share a story with him, without having to pass on the Kindle to him. Of course, if he has it, I don't -- which sorta defeats the purpose of this handy take-it-with-you device.

As a piece in Slate observed, The amazing Amazon Kindle is bad news for the publishing industry:

In exchange for this convenience, though, the Kindle locks you down with more rules than the Army Field Manual. The Kindle won't let you resell or share your books. Anything you buy through the reader is fixed to your Amazon account, readable only on the Kindle or other devices that Amazon may one day deem appropriate. (The company has hinted that it'll build an iPhone app that can read Kindle books.) Even worse, you can buy books for your Kindle only from Amazon's store. Indeed, the device makes it difficult to read anything that's not somehow routed through Amazon first—you can surf the Web on the Kindle, and you can convert some of your personal Microsoft Word or text files to the device's format, but doing so is slow and not very reliable. In order to read blogs, magazines, newspapers, and books, you've really got to go through Amazon's store first.
Along with the non-sharing, the Amazon lock-in is bothersome. For example, Google Books offers free classic e-books, but they aren't accessible through the Kindle. It's was that very proprietary lock-in that has caused me to avoid most things Sony and may put a damper on the embers of my Kindle lust.

The Christian Science Monitor also discusses the "dangers of digital commodification" in a piece by Emily Walshe, a librarian & professor, Kindle e-reader: A Trojan horse for free thought:

For now, though, Kindle is on fire in the marketplace. Who could resist reading "what you want, when you want it?" Access to more than 240,000 books is just seconds away. And its "revolutionary electronic-paper display ... looks and reads like real paper."

But it comes with restrictions: You can't resell or share your books – because you don't own them. You can download only from Amazon's store, making it difficult to read anything that is not routed through Amazon first. You're not buying a book; you're buying access to a book. No, it's not like borrowing a book from a library, because there is no public investment. It's like taking an interest-only mortgage out on intellectual property.

* * * *

Why is this important? Because Kindle is the kind of technology that challenges media freedom and restricts media pluralism. It exacerbates what historian William Leach calls "the landscape of the temporary": a hyper mobile and rootless society that prefers access to ownership. Such a society is vulnerable to the dangers of selective censorship and control.

Digital rights management (DRM), which Kindle uses to lock in its library, raises critical questions about the nature of property and identity in digital culture. Culture plays a large role – in some ways, larger than government – in shaping who we are as individuals in a society. The First Amendment protects our right to participate in the production of that culture. The widespread commodification of access is shaping nearly every aspect of modern citizenship. There are benefits, to be sure, but this transformation also poses a big-time threat to free expression and assembly.

Even bigger concerns arise with a digital transformation. Books are more "permanent" than digital technology (and less easily susceptible to alteration). Finally -- and most importantly, is the issue of control over access. As Walshe notes:

Print may be dying, but the idea of print would be the more critical demise: the idea that there needs to be a record – an artifact of permanence, residence, and posterity – that is independent of some well-appointed thingamajig in order to be seen, touched, understood, or wholly possessed.

"You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture," Ray Bradbury once said. "Just get people to stop reading them."

Access equals control. In this case, it is control over what is read and what is not; what is referenced and what is overlooked; what is retained and what is deleted; what is and what seems to be.

All in all, I think I'll skip the Kindle, at least until I'm comfortable with the resolution of these issues. Until then, this techie is happy with a book in hand.

(CSM article via buzzflash on Twitter)


Ben said...

Why would you pay $350 for a Kindle? That is a bit much and the new asus Transformer destroys it out of the water for home office installation.

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