The instruction we find in books is like fire. We fetch it from our neighbours, kindle it at home, communicate it to others and it becomes the property of all.
Finding Amazon citing this makes me so angry I could start throwing things around the room. How dare they appropriate a quotation about the benefits to humanity of the free interchange and sharing of books and information, and apply it to a device whose DRM and licensing restrictions mean that Voltaire would now have to say:
The instruction we find in books is a commodity. Our neighbours recommend we buy it, we download it at home, recommend it to others for them to buy too, and it remains at all times the exclusive property of the Content Provider who grants us a non-exclusive right to view such Digital Content solely for our personal, non-commercial use.
The same point was also forcefully made in Monday’s XKCD (especially the mouseover text):
Add to that the destruction that the Kindle, especially in its new expanded range, will cause to book shops, especially independent book shops. Not to mention the loss of the intergenerational transfers of knowledge and enjoyment, often purely serendipitous, that can come just from children reading the books on their parents’ shelves.
The Kindle is clearly a lovely bit of kit. Part of me would, no doubt, get great enjoyment from owning and using one. But in terms of its social consequences (and Ellul’s 76 questions to ask a new technology are worth reading here), a better quotation than Voltaire would have been this:
Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. […] All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.