Tuesday, March 24, 2009

To kindle is to set fire to

In this nicely turned piece, Emily Walshe makes the inevitable (though I would never have thought of it) connection between the fiery success of the Kindle and Ray Bradbury's cautionary tale of bookburning. Refreshingly, Walshe emphasizes the distinction between access and ownership instead of pretending that it doesn't exist, the familiar tactic of those who pooh-pooh the very notion of intellectual property rights. Walshe acknowledges that the difference is big indeed, and warns against the dangers of "digital commodification." For a well-fed fellow like me living comfortably in the world's s most comfortable kingdom, it's (far too) easy to say pish when alarmists start going on about civil liberties and Orwellian or Bradburian dystopias, but Walshe argues compellingly.

Access equals control. In this case, it is control over what is read and what is not; what is referenced and what is overlooked; what is retained and what is deleted; what is and what seems to be.
To kindle, we must remember, is to set fire to. The combustible power of this device (and others like it) lies in their quiet but constant claim to intangible, algorithmic capital. What the Kindle should be igniting is serious debate on the fundamental, inalienable right to property in a digital age – and clarifying what's yours, mine, and ours.

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