Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Burn the Kindle

Amazon calls their successful e-reader the Kindle. Indeed, it is the kindling in an electronic fire that is destroying our books, bookstores, and libraries. Their newest gadget, released yesterday, is the Kindle Fire.

Fireman Bezos

I'd love to see a real Kindle fire, piles and piles of Kindles set ablaze. Would anything be more delicious?

But, you say, it's the words that matter, not the physical object that carries them. Sure, the words are on those screens now, but how much of a leap will it be to just erase them? Amazon has already done it more than once. When they recalled 1984 (of all titles) in 2009, they simply sucked it back out of the devices like magic.

When it's time to take all the books away, there will be no need for lighter fluid and blowtorches. Big Brother will just press a button.

When it's time to take all the books away, people will give them up willingly. They already are.

Listen to the book-hating venom in the voices of people in fetishistic love with their Kindles and Apples. You can hear it everywhere. Destroy the dusty old tomes! Onward with the gleaming future! Even the Pulitzer Prize-winning authors among us have sucked down that toxic Kool-Aid with a smile.

The analgesic tyranny of the screen has all of us drugged and brainwashed to some extent. This is what Ray Bradbury was writing about in Fahrenheit 451. "I wasn't worried about freedom," he said. "I was worried about people being turned into morons by TV... Fahrenheit's not about censorship, it's about...the proliferation of giant screens and the bombardment of factoids."

In the late 1950s, Bradbury wrote about a prophetic scene:

"In writing the short novel Fahrenheit 451 I thought I was describing a world that might evolve in four or five decades. But only a few weeks ago, in Beverly Hills one night, a husband and wife passed me, walking their dog. I stood staring after them, absolutely stunned. The woman held in one hand a small cigarette-package-sized radio, its antenna quivering. From this sprang tiny copper wires which ended in a dainty cone plugged into her right ear. There she was, oblivious to man and dog, listening to far winds and whispers and soap-opera cries, sleep-walking, helped up and down curbs by a husband who might just as well not have been there. This was not fiction."

In the novel, he wrote about the first iPod, a device for conveying propaganda and keeping people subdued:

"His wife stretched on the bed, uncovered and cold, like a body displayed on the lid of the tomb, her eyes fixed in the ceiling by invisible threads of steel, immovable. And in her ears the little Seashells, the thimble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk coming in, coming in on the shore of her unsleeping mind. The room was indeed empty."

But most people don't worry about the devices and the screens and all the strange things they're doing to us, whether it's watering down our brains or stealing our privacy, turning us into zombies, eager to hand over our humanity.

Your Kindle is watching you. It keeps track of the books you read, how often you read them, how quickly you turn the pages, even the personal notes you make in the margins. And the new Kindle Fire is even better at it. It can track, bundle, and sell you in seconds. Said Representative Edward Markey last month, “Consumers may buy the new Kindle Fire to read ‘1984,’ but they may not realize that the tablet’s ‘Big Browser’ may be watching their every keystroke.”

Burning comic books in Binghamton, NY

There is a hatred and fear of books inside human beings. Our lust for and allegiance to the Almighty Screen is its latest expression.

It's time to revolt. Burn those Kindles. Say no to Amazon. Stand up for real books. Before it's too late.

World War II poster


  1. I share your feelings with the ease Amazon has shown in pulling content from the Kindle. I don't, however, utterly condemn the ereader, we are seeing the form in it's infancy and already it has opened doors for the people to distribute and share ideas. The publishing houses have long maintained a stranglehold on the creation of books, ideas deemed to radical or just too strange for marketing die on the desk without being seen by the public. Small and independent presses only reach a select market and self publishing has been consigned by the public to amateurs as best and kooks at worst. As we see the form mature and branch out from it's pure corporate roots, we can look toward open source ereaders where simple tools and hacks break the DRM source and liberate the device from the company's control. Even in the for profit environment individuals can access Amazon's distribution and publish their own content with or without profit for the company or the person. That content has the potential to reach millions of readers who would never lay eyes on it otherwise.

    As a book lover and ardent collector of books, I see the Kindle as an addendum to not a replacement of paper books. I buy and read a lot on my Kindle but in no way way can it replace the printed word. Yes, the Kindle will most likely kill off the great chain stores for books as people by the mass market reading material of John Grisham airport reads and low brow romantic fiction. The small/independent bookstores might even reclaim their market as people turn back to them for their "book" needs instead of their "reading". It's speculation, granted, but a plausible one.

    Finally, I concur, we as a culture have become slaves to screens, the bright and shiny cult fetishes of a modern living hold an unhealthy appeal. Yet, anything which invites a person to read, to exercise their minds above the Pavlovian stimulus/response of Angry Birds or a text message cannot be entirely bad.

  2. I bought a Kindle for a monthly long cross country trip, and downloaded about half a dozen really large books, then only available in hard cover, plus a guidebook. I don't have space in my apartment for large books anymore, plus I didn't want to lug them with me. The guidebook was an experiment.

    I wound up using the guidebook somewhat, though the maps didn't show up well on the Kindle at all. I barely looked at the long books.

    The fact is that the technology is still early (I am usually NOT an early adopter, because new tech tends to be released to the market before its ready, and overhyped). The paper codex is still a better reading technology, its quicker to look up things by flipping through pages than using the search feature, its easier on the eyes, and its more robust.

    However, I can definitely see e-readers replacing bulky refererence works and text books, along with academic papers and reports. These take up a lot of space, are not read for pleasure, and some of the Kindle features would be handy. I would like to have an encyclopedia downloaded to an e-reader, for example. I'm aware that many people like to buy big bulky books to display in their houses, not to read, but some of these, or at least parts of them, are actually quite readable and would be e-reader material for people who like to read them. Codexes would still be better for anything coming in at less than 400 pages.

    See here ( for commentary by an early adopter user of the Kindle Fire. Its not that easy to use!

  3. Ennuipoet said above: "we can look toward open source ereaders where simple tools and hacks break the DRM source and liberate the device from the company's control."

    I just wondering that when you liberate the device & hack the work are you going to send the author his royalty check?

  4. I'm really mixed about the Kindle. I got one as a gift and in the last 3 months I've read more books than I have in the past 2 years, simply because it was easier to procure a book and carry it around. Lazy me. There are many things about reading on a Kindle that I don't like - being able to flip around is the primary one. I have trouble throwing away books and maintain a storage space which could probably be cut in half if I got rid of the books, just sitting there getting moldy. The Kindle will help keep that habit down - space is a serious issue. So I'm mixed and struggle with having an opinion that I can back up with action. I feel guilty reading on the Kindle if it means the demise of bookstores. I read less if I didn't have one. Oy.

    The irony is what is not available on Kindle (yet) -- college textbooks. I don't think a strong case can be made for paper text books - they are often used once and tossed and have little resale value as professors often choose a different version each year as they are updated frequently. Plus, one would think Kindle text books would be more affordable for the strapped college student (and their parents).

    1. Alas, I'm afraid that your perfectly reasonable expectation that Kindle text books would be more affordable might turn out to be only relatively true. I've seen too many examples of new technology being priced at the upper limit of what a consumer can tolerate, regardless of cost basis of production (or some old-fashioned concept such as the value of education & the transmission of knowledge). I'm distressed by how new technology, for all the "green" ads and pc posturing, often is devoid of the least hint of conscience. Consider, for example, Monsanto's "termination technology" seeds genetically engineered to produce plants devoid of their own seeds.

      Whatever happened to that tired old cliche conservatives liked to quite about "Give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day; teach him to fish, he'll eat forever." In this case, teach a man to farm not to further his self-sufficiency, but only a slavish dependency upon a corporation's ruthless corruption of nature. And if his crops fail and he can't afford to buy seeds for the next season, well, as is the sad case in India, there's always suicide.

      This is criminal. And it is the kind of criminality of which Bezos and Amazon--with their abusive labor practices--are eminently capable.


    its going to happen. the books @ 42ST nypl will soon be moved to jersey.

  6. This past Saturday I attended an all-day Design Documentary Film Festival, hosted by SVA and featuring several films produced by the BBC. The final of these was Alan Yentob's "Books: The Last Chapter", a thought-provoking rumination on the future of publishing. It was followed by a terrific Q & A session with Mr. Yentob himself. If you weren't there you should check both out on YouTube.


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