It's funny you mention 1984 Mark as there was just now a mini-scandal regarding it, where Amazon actually deleted copies of the book from people's Kindle (because the seller didn't have the copyrights). Apparently Amazon has the ability to delete from people's kindle books which they already bought and downloaded (something which was obviously impossible in the days of print). Also apparently, it has been doing it for a while but it was just now noticed, and quite apropos that it was 1984 which they deleted. One student complained that with the book all the notes he had on it were erased also. The possibilities here for censorship are scary.
So, though I love the technology (and whether we love it or hate it it's the future), I'm against the kindle. I think it is way too dangerous to allow amazon to have a semi-monopoly on both publishing and distributing books, and soon even controlling your books. Amazon has lately moved to try to force people only to print print on demand books with it in a move which caused several literary organization to call for its boycott, though I don't think much came of it at the end. They are moving to control both the publishing and distribution of books completely, which is very bad, 1984-bad. Now add to this controlling the books you have at home and being able to alter them at will, we see a very real danger here.
Especially as the kindle is also trying to control the file format of the books you read, that you will only be able to read files in the format they choose and thus be stuck always buying with them. (Like the ipod and itunes). If they don't choose to sell books of some sort, for example books about gay people, you might soon not be able to read them at all. Or, as Chris Utterman says in the Ken Loach
"I will say again, censorship is almost never saying: This mustn't be
shown. It's by limiting the audience, and there are many ways people
use to do that.
But, to be the devil's advocate - if you like the technology, and I certainly do, it needs to succeed in order to develop and no one before amazon managed to get it seriously distributed, so I'm also somewhat glad that the kindle is selling well.
Now to the technology itself. I think for our generation it is amazing. It feels very nice to read (I saw some ebook in a demo), and though it needs to improve - being of size A4, with color, better at adding notes and underline etc., when it will work which might take a decade it will be great
. One can have the entire library of congress in one's hand. Think of it, you go to a cafe
, take out your small ebook, and you have the entire library of congress with you, in full color. All the extremely expensive art books, and what not. No more out of print books - as a kid I couldn't get my hands on so many books I wanted to read. Heaven.
Devils advocate again - the moment something is easily accessible it loses some of its allure. When books will be so cheap, will we still sit and quietly read one completely, or will we jump through all the hyperlinks and never actually finish a book? I don't think our generation is in any danger of it, but I'm not sure about people who will be born in 20 years, who might not ever see a book, besides in some museums. It might be like records now and soon cd's.
For now, for myself, I am very excited about this technology. The ability for authors to write books with many images, and even sound, and maybe other tools is exciting. The kindle might help it along, but I do hope that soon it will be replaced by a different company, which will probably be no less corrupt than amazon, but at least it won't have total monopoly. And also, that it will be offline, that is, they can't control and check what you read, they can't change it, they can't copy your notes, and so on.