The invasion of our libraries – Fahrenheit 451 all over?

When I read the article about how an online retailer deleted a controversial book from its buyer’s e•book readers, without their knowledge, it shocked the hell out of me. Ironically, I was in the middle of reading Ray Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451 – a story about a dystopian future (Bradbury wrote the book in 1953 and projected 50 years forward – so it could be set in the present day, give or take a few years), in which books are banned and firemen go out regularly to burn libraries and other book repositories. The recent e•book deletion incident caught me up short. Heck, we did not need fireman running around with flame throwers, we had the Internet instead (Bradbury, in all his brilliance had not envisaged using cyber networks to effect the same carnage).

E•books now face a credibility crisis: not only do they possess intrusive deletion capability (oh, yes, that retailer apologized, swore never to do it again, offered refunds, yada yada) – but who trusts anyone, anymore, anyway? For e•books would now come loaded with advertizing that could be implanted, deleted, moved around, refreshed, multiplied, or appear in front of your nose the moment you flipped an electronic page (Ha, now you see me, now you don’t!). I thought video rentals were bad enough – the ones that come preloaded with trailers and commercials that you can’t skip past but must endure to get to the movie you paid money to see! And the mega cinemas that made their market entry offering the “better experience” of stadium seating, giant screens, great concessionaires (pricey!) and clean washrooms – well they bombed too, when they resorted to doping us on advertizing the moment we entered the auditorium before the main show began and stared at a screen that just rotated one commercial after another.

Will someone smart think of a “no•commercial, no•intrusion, no deletion” offering for e•books next? A “download, lock down, and then switch off the Internet” option for e•book readers? And will customers ever trust it? For once that cyber•conduit to the outside world is opened, one never knows what garbage will be sent down, or withdrawn through, the digital chutes by those wily retailers?

For now, I am sticking with my paper book from the library: dog•eared, with coffee stains and finger germs of past users still hugging its pages. Better still, when I can afford it, I’ll buy my paper book, read it, smell it, bend it, mark it, lend it, stack it in my personal library, and show it off to my friends as another notch on my road to gaining literary knowledge.

And as for the e•book, I will mourn its setback, although it is still my brightest hope for the future. But like an errant child, it did something it was not supposed to do, and has received punishment. I hope that it will learn from its mistakes, and mature, and that its next iteration will allow it to sit at the same table as the adults.

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