I spent some time earlier today writing about aspects of our rapidly approaching future that I feel are not, precisely, a step in the right direction. This was all indirect, of course -- the writing was more of a stream of consciousness where this theme happened to manifest. Despite this, I found that some elements of the topics I touched on are important enough to revisit, albeit in a less haphazard manner.


The element that initially drew my attention in my work was a small claim I made: "real books don't need batteries." Perhaps I thought it up on my own, perhaps I read it somewhere -- regardless, the idea resonated. Real books, as in the physical "dead tree" object, do not need batteries to be functional. The end user does not need computers, special proprietary software, or other hardware to use the book. Furthermore, any notes a user takes in the work are theirs. There is no DRM or TOS, no kill switch that can take the book away at a moment's notice.


My deepest worry, perhaps, stems from the eBook hardware itself: as a piece of electronic hardware, it suffers from the same environmental concerns as many other consumer electronics. Gold, heavy metals, and the other elements that go into creating your Kindle or Sony Reader pile up, and this doesn't even take into account the possibility of producer malpractice. Planned obsolescence, whether through shoddy workmanship or a simple case of being unable to replace a spent batter yourself, seems to be a constant element of modern electronic design, and I maintain doubts about the likelihood of this being phased out simply due to the change to a subscription model. Indeed, the change to cloud-based architecture virtually guarantees that the current manufacturing modus operandi remains unchanged.


With cloud-based computing, for those who don't know, the electronic device itself is merely a gateway to display your data; the data itself is stored in a separate location entirely, independent of the machine displaying it. This provides a unique freedom from the fear of product loss due to a system failure, and when combined with proprietary, Digital Rights Management (DRM)- and Terms of Service (TOS)-protected eBook file types, gives a vendor a nearly foolproof way of gaining guaranteed income. Consider: with a piece of eBook reading hardware having an artificially short lifespan thanks to planned obsolescence, a consumer would be forced to purchase a new piece of hardware to have continued access to their collection of purchased eBooks -- eBooks rendered useless without the hardware and inoperable on an opponent's eReader system via the embedded DRM and corporate TOS. While I haven't heard of this being put into play by any of the major forces in the eBook industry, the prospect of it is undeniably terrifying.


My concern for the content delivery systems for eBooks goes beyond the aspects that lead up to the potential for abuse that I outlined before. The human capacity for concentration is a feeble entity when faced with the prospects of the electronic frontier. Certain expectations have appeared when working with digital media: hyperlinks in the footnotes and tables of contents, embedded search tools, digital annotations. This interwoven, interactive experience directly attacks our ability and capacity for deep reading. Our attention is constantly divided, called away from the main body of the text on innumerable hyperlinked tangents. As the New York Times pointed out several months ago, our understanding of a given text suffers.


A final atrocity against the spirit of the book is committed in the margins. Seeing the empty space as a form of untapped natural resources or real estate, eBook providers began to sell the space for advertising. While the idea of a book as a medium for advertising predates the invention of the eBook, historical examples were almost exclusively seen in documents whose publication was vital, but whose audience was small enough that a publisher would need to subsidize the work with ad-based revenue to avoid printing at a loss. This differs from the purely value-added advertising revenue we see in the modern context. Indeed, when examined closely, the nature of the beast is striking.


Services such as Amazon's Whispernet, an element of the Kindle reader which offers users the capability to access free wireless Internet in an ever-expanding number of countries around the world, take on a different light when viewed through the lens of corporate profit. This service not only increases the number of opportunities for potential eBook sales (not necessarily a bad thing), it also offers advertisers a chance to deliver fresh, targeted material to the margins of an eBook regardless of the reader's geographic location. More ads displayed means more revenue earned.


The fact that some eReaders have this always-on connection to their parent corporation means a further opportunity to expand their database of usage statistics and consumer habits, giving a fresh way to specifically target any given user with improved sales and advertising systems. While this may not seem like a large concern to begin with, one need only turn to the Facebook privacy fiasco to understand the potential for abuse. Efficiently gathered, this data could quickly and easily be anonymized and sold to interested third parties -- or, with the right spin to the TOS, it could even be sold with its identifying material left intact, part of a privacy-destroying opt-out few would ever notice in the multi-page wall of legalese.


So yes, this headlong rush down a primrose path concerns me. The potential for wholesale exploitation is above reasonable levels, the possible loss of privacy too steep, and the technological and ecological challenges too severe for me to be entirely comfortable with this fresh new direction. As I said: I believe a real book will never need batteries.


This document was adapted from a diary entry written on May 11th, 2010, and was written on a Olivetti Underwood Studio 45 typewriter for preservation purposes before being digitized with optical character recognition software.

Views: 33

Comment

You need to be a member of Art of Manliness to add comments!

Join Art of Manliness

Comment by George Richard Severs on May 14, 2010 at 3:50am
I had no idea that the margins were being sold for adverts. Thats shocking, and I intend to never purchase such an e-book. I didn't before, and certainly won't now.

Latest Activity

Ovid replied to Pale Horse's discussion Our Current Western Zeitgeist in the group The Great Debate
"Gaybashing (going out to kick the shit out of gays just for the fun of it) was so common in the 80s and 90s that comedians used to joke about it on TV.Well that's pretty vague and doesn't include any measurable way of verifying just how…"
2 minutes ago
Lumberjoe replied to Pale Horse's discussion Our Current Western Zeitgeist in the group The Great Debate
""And even in the most liberal city in Sweden, the residents of a poor impoverished ghetto are still going to beat up gays just because they can, regardless of whether some "pride hashtag" is trending on Twitter or not." People…"
5 minutes ago
J. D. replied to Pale Horse's discussion Americans, do you regret your vote? in the group The Great Debate
"I voted for Trump, and while I don't exactly worship the ground he walks on, I don't regret my vote one bit.  I love how he takes the media to task, has rolled back a lot of regulations,, and got a conservative guy on the supreme…"
5 minutes ago
Ovid replied to Pale Horse's discussion Our Current Western Zeitgeist in the group The Great Debate
"Identity politics can be deconstructive / Balkanistic or they can be increasingly inclusive. They work in both directions:I suppose it would depend on how widely the group is defined, but from the definition you posted identity politics is based…"
6 minutes ago
Lumberjoe replied to Pale Horse's discussion Our Current Western Zeitgeist in the group The Great Debate
""There haven't been any real, measurable social changes beyond the legal victories such as the legalization of same-sex marriage - beyond that nothing has really changed in any measurable way beyond the "bandwagon" that people…"
7 minutes ago
Lumberjoe replied to Pale Horse's discussion Our Current Western Zeitgeist in the group The Great Debate
""And regardless, most "right-wingers" aren't keen on the state meddling in the business of what people do in their own bedroom, and this isn't something that's really changed. While openly identifying as "gay and…"
13 minutes ago
Ovid replied to Braeden 2.0's discussion Attractions to other Cultures and Revulsion towards other Cultures
"find East Indian/Hindu culture absolutely repugnant. Polytheism. Sacred animals. Child prostitutes. WORLD POWER BY 2020. It's all either against my core beliefs or annoying. That's a very inaccurate descriptor of "Hinduism" - the…"
14 minutes ago
Lumberjoe replied to Pale Horse's discussion Our Current Western Zeitgeist in the group The Great Debate
""I fail to see how identification based on shared values or universal qualities such as human identity would qualify as identity politics; identity politics by definition I believe refers to tribalistic or segregationist political identities…"
16 minutes ago

© 2017   Created by Brett McKay.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service