When Orwell is right, something's very wrong

I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who shivered a bit when I heard that Amazon.com had reached into people’s Kindle electronic books and snatched back copies of “1984″ and “Animal Farm” they thought they’d bought.

Silly people. Big Brother – er-Amazon can do that any time they want. As the article on Slate.com here (click!) makes clear, Amazon still claims it owns the books you t hink you buy and can take them back any time you want.

Spooky. And if they can take them back, they can modify them, too. Or change them from one thing to another. As George Orwell said in “1984,”  “He who controls the past controls the future,” and if the power to alter a book while it sits in my possession isn’t the power to control the past, I don’t know what is.

Why am I suddenly reminded of proposals that our dear Sen. Orrin Hatch made in the past for government agents to use their computers to seek out pirated songs on my computer? Why shouldn’t I assume that the NSA is monitoring my keystrokes even as I type this? Seriously, when the paranoics are right, it’s time to hide the silver and — gasp! — load the guns.

Amazon said it took the books back because they weren’t published to its site properly. Well and good — I buy their reason, but the technology that the kerfuffel revealed Amazon controls is very scary. If I didn’t already have plenty of reasons to not want an electronic book — and I have many — this is a good one, more than sufficient all by itself.

Books are ideas. Books are knowledge. Ideas and knowledge are the basis ofcivilization, and when govenrment, or someone, starts messing with those things we’re all in trouble.

Plus, on a personal level, when I buy a book, it’s mine, I hold it in my library and I like to think what’s left of the Constitution protects my right to keep it there. Amazon — or Big Brother — snatching it out is simply wrong.

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10 Responses to When Orwell is right, something's very wrong

  1. TheLovelyJennifer says:

    I agree — when I buy a book, it’s mine. period. The kindle looks cool and everything, but if you accidently drop it or get it wet, or big brother steps in, all the books you bought are – gasp – GONE!

  2. Cathy says:

    I never trusted those Kindle things… even the name reminds me of a book burning. But then I am one of those paranoiacs LOL, thanks for confirming.

  3. flatlander100 says:

    Agreed. Absolutely.

    Kindle technology has some real possibilities…. for reading newspapers, for example, material that’s designed to have a short shelf life.

    But books? No.

  4. laytonian says:

    …and I came {{this close}} to ordering a Kindle a few days ago.

    No thanks, Amazon. I’ll keep my books, and start driving to buy them. There’s nothing like your own fresh, new book that cracks the first time you open it, that you can underline, stick post-its in, and dog-ear all you want.

    Of course, I can also flip to a page in my day planner more quickly than anyone can find the same info in their Blackberry or iPhone….and I don’t need a silly “app” to help me figure the tip on a restaurant bill.

    Maybe we’re realizing that technology is making us prey, and lazy?

  5. Mark Shenefelt says:

    Kindle, another technology with great promise. It’s going through implementation growing pains — specifically, the hamfisted management by Amazon. With Charlie and others raising hell about the book-retraction silliness, I’m not too worried about a pervasive problem developing. People have too many other options, which is a beautiful thing.

    I remember when desktop PCs, laptops and cell phones came out. Why would anyone ever want one of those things, lots of people asked. I love all the noted gadgets, and I’ll probably end up with Kindle once the stupidities are scrubbed away.

    I’m reading “Jolie Blon’s Bounce” by James Lee Burke. If you like gritty detective yarns, run right out today and find one of the Dave Robicheaux novels. I can’t imagine reading one of these on a KIndle; the dog-eared paperback cannot be replaced.

    Charlie, speaking of paranoia, your bookcase probably is no great refuge. I recall our government has a history, much of it in recent decades, of FBI agents snooping around in bookstores trying to find out what subversive tracts were being read by assumed dangerous radicals.

  6. ctrentelman says:

    Kindle technology may survive, but in what form nobody knows but I will bet you that it won’t be compatible with the current kindle, which means early adopters will be stuck with expensive bricks.

    I’m with the paper folks, though — paperback books are ideal traveling companions, don;t die when their batteries go dead, don’t break if you buy them, and can be tossed when finished — And my Rolodex can come up with a number five times faster than anyone’s blackberry or computer phoner file.

    And the FBI or Homeland Security may be able to monitor what I read, but they can’t change the text of my books while I sleep. Not yet, anyway.

    and i LOVE dave robicheaux novels — is that a new one? I read two on my train trip.

  7. Mark Shenefelt says:

    No, “Bounce” is from 2002. I’m four or five behind.

    I have to take breaks from Burke because the stories are so intense. But I always come back for more Clete Purcell action. I think Clete’s my favorite fictional character, ever.

  8. flatlander100 says:

    MS and CT:

    What has me concerned is not so much that Amazon [or Big Brother] will learn — or care — what I read, though I recognize the potential McCarthyite problems. What concerns me more [as a historian] is that Kindle technology provides the opportunity for a corporation, or a court, or a government, to globally and instantly revise books in such a way that no record of the revision remains in the book you have on your reader.

    How about a scenario something like this: Someone writes an “All The President’s Men” book regarding, say, Chaney and torture. Chaney sues and wins a judgment for defamation. Part of the resolution involves an agreement by the publisher [or an order by the court] to alter the offending text in the book. Amazon globally [and instantly] revises the paragraph in every Kindle copy worldwide. The history as originally written [right or wrong] is now gone from every electronic copy of the book, with no indication that it has been altered from the original.

    That raises my hackles as a historian but good.

    I’d find a Kindle handy — the bigger version — for reading newspapers on buses, trains, park benches. It’d be handy to have when traveling because clueless hoteliers keep making “USA Today” available gratis when what I want to read early in the morning in a strange city is the local paper — what’s happening there, where I am. USA Today is worthless for that. Kindle might let me read the St. Louis Post Dispatch, or the SF Chronicle [if it survives], or the Chicago Trib, or the East Overshoe Daily Tattler — whatever — easily and inexpensively and instantly. I like that idea.

    But for anything designed for a long shelf life — like a book —- no.

    PS: the early Robicheauxs are first rate. The cheap trashy mystery raised to the level of literature. The most recent ones, less so.

  9. ctrentelman says:

    Revising books, and other history, is precisely my fear, and don’t think somebody else hasn’t already thought of it. It may even be happening without us knowing about it.

    Nein Danke, no Kindle for me.

    I thought all the Robicheaux novels were at least really good, make me yearn fora dish of red beans and rice and sausage

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