Amazon 'Kindled' thoughts: Should Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 be renamed to Fahrenheit 1981?

Amazon 'Kindled' thoughts: Should Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 be renamed to Fahrenheit 1981?

Summary: As you can see from this past Friday's "unboxing" video, I received for review a Kindle ebook from Amazon. In that video (and its accompanying blog post), I had some initial thoughts on the Kindle and now that a full weekend has passed I have a lot more to say.

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As you can see from this past Friday's "unboxing" video, I received for review a Kindle ebook from Amazon. In that video (and its accompanying blog post), I had some initial thoughts on the Kindle and now that a full weekend has passed I have a lot more to say. For those of you who have managed to get your hands on one (amazingly, Amazon is already sold out of the $399 device), you will notice the following dictionary-esque definition definition printed on the inside cover of the Kindle's packaging.

kindlebox.jpg

In the Berlind household, the Kindle inspired a lot of discussion. My wife has a voracious appetite for books about raising children. I honestly think she has ordered and read every one that's in print from Amazon.com. She often has three or four books "going" at any given point in time. In this respect, the idea of an ebook like the Kindle is perfect for her. Just the thought of being able to carry so many books in her purse without having to actually carry so many books made her giggle with delight.

One point; ebooks aren't new. There are other ebook technologies from companies like Sony and Adobe. But Amazon has far deeper and longstanding business relationships with book publishers than does anybody I can think of in the book publishing industry and personally, I think this gives the Kindle a huge advantage over everything that came before it to become a near defacto standard for the market. That's both good and bad. It's good because it's about time that some company is able to bring an ebook to the market that will get accepted by the masses. It's bad because right now, it's not clear just how much Amazon will open the platform up over time. For example, as a Kindle owner, will I be able to buy ebooks from other merchants or open ebooks that are formatted differently? For good reasons, librarians have serious issues with proprietary ebook technologies. The whole point of a library is public access to books. The Kindle helps open the same debate about books that the OpenDocument Format raised about the government's public documents: should the public be required to have a certain technology to access a book or a document?

Anyway, what better way to test the Kindle than to hand it to someone with an appetite for books like my wife. In one or more separate blog posts, I'll write about our findings. But before I get started on those (and going back to the librarian issue), I want to focus on the one "finding" that led us to a really interesting conversation about the public's access to books and ideas.

Although Ray Bradbury vehemently denied it, many people believe that the classic book Fahrenheit 451 is about government censorship through book burning. The book's title represents the temperature at which paper burns.

When my wife first giggled at the idea of being able to carry so many books in her purse without having to physically carry so many books, it lead to one of those green conversations and how good for Mother Earth a successful ebook entry into the marketplace might be. Think of all the trees that could be saved.

But that led me to another thought. Might a successful ebook be the first step towards a world where many if not all new books are never printed on paper? Why not? Right? Well, today, the "why not" is that not all books are well-suited to something like the Kindle. For one, any book that relies on color to get its message across (biology textbooks, guides to gardening, children's books, coffee table books, etc.) would be ill-suited to the Kindle which can't support color. But we'll get there. Along the way, there may very well be some books that never come out on paper just the same way so many ideas, articles, and stories are already told on exclusively in bits (on the Web).

While reading the first book she purchased through the Kindle (Hidden Messages: What Our Words and Actions Are Really Telling Our Children), my wife mentioned how she could see the Kindle as a replacement for paperbacks, but not hard cover books. Her reasoning was that there's something about the experience of holding a hard cover book in your hands and reading it that can't be reproduced with a paperback or an eBook. It probably has to do with the publisher's choice of paper stock, but I agree; hard cover books are cozy. Paperbacks are less so and the Kindle is not even close.

Books, particularly hard cover books, have another thing going for them: permanence. Yes, they can be burned. But one thought I had, in the context of how Earth-friendly ebooks are, is that it would take a really really long time before some government could deprive its people of thoughts and ideas through burning books. To burn them all, the government would first have to find them all. The minute any citizenry, even a fictitious one, gets hip to the idea that their government is attempting to rid the culture of information not under its control, that citizenry moves to preserve that information. From the Wikipedia's entry on Farenheit 451:

.....Beatty says that all firemen are bound to steal a book at one time or another and that they can turn it in or burn it within 24 hours. Montag argues with his wife over the book, showing his growing disgust for her and for his society. It is soon revealed that Montag has hidden dozens of books in the house, and he tries to memorize them so their contents can be preserved,...

Perhaps you can already anticipate where I'm going with this. What if some of those books or all of them were only available in digital form and tied to some sort of digital rights management system (a form of which is undoubtedly running as a part of Amazon's Kindle infrastructure). Instead of hunting down all the books, the censor would need little more than a mouse click. And for good measure, maybe the censor might destroy the public networking infrastructure. Fahrenheit 1981.4 is the temperature at which copper melts.

Not that I think the world would ever get there, but suddenly, the same technology that holds promise to ease many burdens including those on Mother Earth is also the technology that lowers the barrier to censorship. Conversely, once books are digitized into bits, it's easier for those bits to sneak into highly censored societies.

That is is just one conversation that the Kindle inspired over the weekend. Feel free to jump in with your comments below.

Topics: Hardware, Amazon, Mobility

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  • DRM the real problem

    DRM and endless copyright are the real problem. The books at Project Gutenberg will never go out of print. They have already bee dublicated on hundreds of web sites and thousands, if not millions of devices.
    Only works which are allowed to be locked in with DRM technology are in danger.
    Which leads to the most important question: Can free books from Project Gutenberg or other sources be used on the Kindled? If not it's nothing but a toy and has no more chance of effecting change than any of the other "ebook" devices.
    carlino
  • RE: Amazon 'Kindled' thoughts: Should Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 be renamed

    Question, can a standard .txt be put onto the Kindle? i.e can I dump Project Gutenberg works onto the Kindle and read them?
    mtgarden
    • Yes, TXT files are one of the supporte file types....

      .. that you can load into the Kindle. Supported file types are:

      * Kindle (.AZW)
      * Text (.TXT)
      * Unprotected Mobipocket (.MOBI, .PRC)
      * Audible (.AA)
      * MP3 (.MP3)

      I'm just now playing with transferring a .TXT file into the Kindle to see how it works. The first attempt crashed the Kindle. Not sure why on that but I have video of the crashed Kindle and what the "RESET" experience is like.

      db
      dberlind
      • Excellent

        Say, you wouldn't know how a magazine publisher could put subscriptions into the Kindle, would you? It seems that Amazon is approaching people, but not providing a manner for people to approach them.
        mtgarden
  • A two-fer!

    One, the author denies his book means what other people
    say it does, but you report what the other people say anyway
    in such a way that you imply the author is wrong. That gave
    me a good laugh.

    Two. Trees are a renewable resource, especially saplings,
    which make the best paper. So quit acting like cutting down
    a tree removes it from the world forever. I'm still trying to
    figure out which comes first, environmentalism or stupidity.
    frgough
    • Follow up on Bradbury

      If you've actually ever read Fahrenheit 451, you'll find that it's a commentary on
      cultural rot and soundbite mentality. Note that printed material wasn't eliminated;
      it was simply dumbed down to the point where it wouldn't overburden the minds of
      people who had more important trivialities to think about. In fact, one of the first
      books to be ridiculed as meaningless drivel was the Bible.

      In fact, many of the books written today (probably including more than a few of the
      child-rearing books your wife reads) would fit perfectly well within the idea of an
      acceptable book in Fahrenheit 451.
      frgough
    • Fair points...

      .. but regarding what the author's intentions were and what our feelings are about book burning as a potential leverage point for censorship, does it matter how the critical thought was provoked? Why can't I give the book credit for provoking the thought and then carrying that critical thought through into a modern-day technology discussion?

      Regarding trees, are you saying that the book industry is currently 100 percent sustainable as it operates now, or it just could be? My sense is that it's "could be." I'm sure some portion of industry operates under highly earth-sustainable practices, but that every bit (pun intended) helps. As a side note, my wife and I just had this conversation yesterday: fake xmas tree or real one? Yes, the fake one may save some tree from getting cut down. But, on the other hand, does it take food off the table of the Christmas Tree farmer? So, I hear what you're saying. But my sense is there's a lot of room for green improvement in the book business.


      db
      dberlind
      • No Dave... sadly

        this particular person is anti-conservation, anti-environmental and pretty much all about consume everything and don't worry about the consequences of over consumption. Because in his view of the world, we have plenty of everything and global warming is a myth and there is enough oil to last forever.

        Trust me on this, I have gone round and round with this person and everytime he has bailed on the debate, why? Because he knows deep inside he is wrong and his entire stance on consumption is self-destructive at best. ]:)

        There are many industry's that could be self sustaining and environmentally friendly, but that would mean they would have to give up a small portion of their profits to do so. Since greed currently drives capitalism and the current American economy, very few are willing to give up a little for a long term pay off.

        Don't believe me? Do the research yourself. Ask the really hard questions and go outside the United States and see how the rest of the world is getting it... ]:)
        Linux User 147560
        • Let's not panic

          Let's not overstate the environmental problem. Yes there is damage and some of it is not reversible. But we are a long, long way off from running out of essential resources.

          Historically, man discovers new resources or creates value from abundant ones. Case in point is oil. Until the 19th and 20th centuries, it was more of a nuisance than a resource. Then man found a use for oil and its by-products and it became valuable.

          Environmentalist hysteria is a disservice to the environmental cause. Overstating the problem is just as bad.
          mannyamador
          • Who's panicking?

            I spend a lot of time in the mountains backpacking with my family. I see the damage that is being done. I see it in the bays and harbors as well. And it not just here in the United States.

            Actually I believe the problems are being stated pretty accurately based on what I see with my own two eyes. Many of the places I go with my family backpacking have been drastically and negatively impacted over the last 5 years alone. In some areas solid flowing rivers that once spawned salmon are nothing more than a trickle in comparison and in many cases no longer capable of sustaining the salmon spawn since they can't make it up river.

            I have friends that are commercial fishermen, they are reporting smaller and smaller catches as well as the fish they are catching are not fully grown or developed. And with the big fish being impacted it has a negative affect on the entire evolutionary chain as well as the underwater eco-system.

            The problems are real and they are serious. And the more proactive we become the better off we will be in the long run. It's that simple. I don't advocate giving up a level of comfort or a way of life, I advocate pro-actively living in a sustainable manner that allows us to have the same level of comfort we have come to know.

            Right now our current method of consumption and how we conduct ourselves in business and life is not sustainable. Do a little independent research, find the facts out for yourself. The information is out there. ]:)
            Linux User 147560
        • Yeah, cause you're of such a different opinion...

          So you sit here and say that using paper is killing the earth while you surf the internet and make meaningless posts on a news site...

          Yeah...you're earth friendly. What kind of electricity do you use? I guarantee wherever you get it from, whatever source (unless it's nuclear) it's more polluting to the earth than a book is or really any part of the paper industry. It's a fact that recycling paper is more polluting that making new paper. Read a few reports on it. I suggest "The Skeptical Environmentalist" - written by a former Greenpeace member who uses solid statistical evidence to refute most of the claims your making (Except for oil running out, that's running out and there's nothing anybody can do about it).

          So unless you walk everywhere in shoes that are made from the skins of an animal that you killed to eat and you don't live in a wooden house or have pavement that you walk on, please, get off your high horse. You're just as polluting as anybody else - the difference, because of your beliefs, you're actually a hypocrite, at least we can feel comfortable believing what we believe knowing that 1) We're right and 2) We act accordingly.
          p0figster
          • And here we have...

            the reason why nothing ever gets done in America. All you're doing is talking past his point. You're arguing with something that isn't even the argument here.

            Environmentalism is not about ending consumption. It is about creating sustainable environmental business practices that enable consumption at the highest level allowable without destroying our livable world.

            Sure, there are plenty of environmentalists who campaign about reducing consumption, but can you blame them? Since the dawn of empire, mankind has been ravaging the Earth and its inhabitants in search of more and more useless crap. My god, millions of people were killed, entire nations ravaged and destroyed (all of North and South America and the Caribbean), all so that a few people could build up their stockpiles of gold, a pragmatically useless resource. Then in the 20th century, it was Africa for diamonds and the Middle East for oil. Can any rational, moral person look at what we've done as a gluttonous society and not see our wanton disregard for any inhibition of consumption as outrageous?
            TheSimulacra
          • My power comes from solar with wind augmenting...

            I also ride a bike to work instead of drive or use mass transit. And when I do drive it's generally my latest addition, a 1973 Pinto that's been converted to all electric. It will go about 35-40 miles which is more than enough for me to get to work, stop at the store and go home. And yes, I use my solar/wind generators to re-charge the car.

            Green peace... ah yes, they have finally toned down quite a bit but I seem to remember when they would pour paint (you know the stuff that contains all sorts of wonderful chemicals!) onto the sides of US warships, and of course this paint would end up in the water they were trying to protect. Then there are the numerous times they have used destructive methods to push their agendas. Fine example you chose there.

            You see unlike you and the majority of others around here, I use alternative power sources. I don't own an SUV, although I do own a truck but it generally only gets used once every 2-3 months. My entire family practices good green living, and yes, we own a Prius which the wife uses to drop the kids off and commute to work.

            So know, I don't arm chair preach like you and others, I actually live what I preach I am proactive in my beliefs. How about you? ]:)
            Linux User 147560
          • Would like to hear more

            about that Pinto!
            pennatomcat
    • It costs money

      and time to process a tree. It also costs money and time to grow a tree. You are not very smart about the real cost of producing paper are you? The expense out weighs the benefit, especially now that we have a digital method of doing the same thing, which consumes less energy and few natural resources in the grand scheme of things.

      I am glad you are not in charge of running this country... if you had your way every natural and beautiful park, state and federal would have been laid to waste and this nation would look like a lunar wasteland. What an idiot. ]:)
      Linux User 147560
      • Alternative to trees for paper

        HEMP! :) Seriously, it makes a cheaper, better paper which lasts longer, it grows almost anywhere with minimal care and feeding, yada yada yada...
        pinroot
  • And here we have...

    the reason why nothing ever gets done in America. All you're doing is talking past his point. You're arguing with something that isn't even the argument here.

    Environmentalism is not about ending consumption. It is about creating sustainable environmental business practices that enable consumption at the highest level allowable without destroying our livable world.

    Sure, there are plenty of environmentalists who campaign about reducing consumption, but can you blame them? Since the dawn of empire, mankind has been ravaging the Earth and its inhabitants in search of more and more useless crap. My god, millions of people were killed, entire nations ravaged and destroyed (all of North and South America and the Caribbean), all so that a few people could build up their stockpiles of gold, a pragmatically useless resource. Then in the 20th century, it was Africa for diamonds and the Middle East for oil. Can any rational, moral person look at what we've done as a gluttonous society and not see our wanton disregard for any inhibition of consumption as outrageous?
    TheSimulacra
    • Whoops

      Clicked the wrong button, it should be a response to a previous comment above. I'll paste it where it should be.
      TheSimulacra
  • RE: Amazon 'Kindled' thoughts: Should Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 be renamed

    I think the biggest problem with Kindle, besides the proprietary book format, is the choice of Sprint to deliver content. Amazon says, "With Whispernet, you can be anywhere, think of a book, and get it in one minute." Anywhere? Suppose I live in Rapid City, South Dakota, which isn't really a backwater town. Checking Sprint's coverage map it appears I would have to spend a whole day traveling to either Sioux Falls or Cheyenne, Wyoming to download a book. Guess I'd have to save up and buy 200 titles to make the trip worthwhile. And the same is true in numerous small towns across the country. Kindle simply widens the Digital Divide.
    JSMc
  • RE: Amazon 'Kindled' thoughts: Should Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 be renamed to Fahrenheit 1981?

    Brilliant way to discuss the topic of ebooks/Kindle etc. I just got back from seeing Ray Bradbury's production company's newest version of Farenheit 451 -- the director kiddingly called it 452 in his opening statement tonight. Ray was there and I got to chat with him and a pix of course I'll post on Facebook. This BEA (Book Expo) at the end of the month is a pivotal/disruptive conference-- it's 1994 for the book biz -- and this is THE conference that will usher in the change. The 1981.4 temp for copper is Brilliant. Those of us in the film biz know that many of the early movies would be gone, just like some of the kinescopes of TV are gone --quite frankly, I wonder if it would make any sense for each one of us to memorize one book. The actors 'playing' the books tonight in the 451 play said it is an awesome experience. Of course I'll opp for the ear piece probably! Sure makes me proud though that I'm finishing writing a hard copy book that will be out this fall. Although I keep asking my publisher where is the ebook and the Kindle edition???
    joycecom