There is a discussion to be had about whether or not ebooks are bad for writing, reading, and bookselling. There is also, apparently, a discussion to be had about whether or not ebook proponents are just like the Nazis.
Let's start with Sherman Alexie, author of a fair number of popular (and quite good!) books, including Reservation Blues and Flight. He's known for his sense of humor, but he's dead serious about ebooks—specifically, about how they will destroy literature, forever, or something: His points are as follows:
1. Ebook readers are a threat to privacy
2. Jeff Bezos makes cryptic comments about "changing how people read," which is sinister, even though it's fairly obvious that he's speaking literally
3. The music industry was crippled by piracy; therefore the book industry will be crippled by piracy
4. Once books are digitized by publishers, they will be stolen (this part is true)
5. The "open source" culture destroys the concept of ownership
The way he throws around the term "open source" seemingly without knowing what it means, the way he cites unease with how much personal information is stored on the Kindle (does he have nightmares about cellphones, too?), and his apparent lack of understanding about the mechanics of piracy makes me think he's just a bit misinformed about the details of his case, which he obviously feels very strongly about. If he had his facts straight, I'm not sure his case would change, and I think he'd still be able to make good points—this is zeal, not malice.
Which brings me to Alan Kaufman, poet, novelist, and maker of unfortunate analogies:
When I hear the term Kindle I think not of imaginations fired but of crematoria lit. And when I hear the term "hi-tech" I think not of helpful androids efficiently performing household chores or light-speed rockets gliding seamlessly through space but of the fact that between 1933-45, modern technology was used to perform in ever more efficient ways the mass murder of six million of my people.
That's right, people. Ebook readers are like war criminals. It's uncanny!
Today's hi-tech propagandists tell us that the book is a tree-murdering, space-devouring, inferior form that society would be better off without. In its place, they want us to carry around the Uber-Kindle.
The hi-tech campaign to relocate books to Google and replace books with Kindles is, in its essence, a deportation of the literary culture to a kind of easily monitored concentration camp of ideas, where every examination of a text leaves behind a trail, a record, so that curiosity is also tinged with a sense of disquieting fear that some day someone in authority will know that one had read a particular book or essay.
Crematoria lit? Seriously? What's especially vexing here is that buried underneath all the Godwin's Law-ing, there's a real point: It's scary that Amazon can reach into your pocket and delete a book that you've purchased, and, though to a much lesser degree, that they know what you're reading. (I mean, so does the dude behind the counter at your totally not-genocidal local book store, right? Your library?) Plus, Kaufman fails to make a distinction between a regime that would have like to have control over all books so it could censor them, and companies that happen to be gaining more control over books because they want to make money.
And seriously, do I really have to point this out? Nazis didn't burn books because they though paper was wasteful and dumb—they burned books to destroy ideas.
Tune in next week, when I'll be explaining why Steve Jobs is nothing like Pol Pot, and how it would be in poor taste to invoke the Rwandan Genocide to explain why MiniDisc didn't succeed. It's possible to talk about consumer electronics without exploiting our century's greatest human tragedies. Try it! [HuffPo via TechDirt]