Search this site
Other stuff

All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

My latest books:

   

        Available now

       Available Now

Available now 

My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

 The Blue Skunk Page on Facebook

 

EdTech Update

 Teach.com

 

 

 

« Can the Kindle pay for itself? | Main | An e-book reader to light my fire? »
Friday
Nov232007

Emotional reactions to the Kindle

I was somewhat surprised by the rather negative and emotional reactions many in the blogger community had to Amazon's e-book reader. You'da thunk somebody was suggesting that lovable old grandmothers were being replaced by Satan, or something.

The Valleywag blog does this little comparison

kindlechart.jpg

I suspect that had the the author of the chart above been writing in 1907 instead of 2007, it may have looked something like this:

horsevsauto.jpg

Other folks have been fussing that the device is a single-function machine; that it uses a proprietary format (and one would have to actually pay for creative content); and that it can't re-gifted at Christmas to the brother-in-law, etc.

I suspect many people will be unable (or unwilling) to make the switch from cellulose to silicon readers. I suspect both better technology and better content distribution/remuneration schemes are just around the corner.

But what many of us fogies are forgetting is that IT IS NOT ABOUT US. I find it ironic that the Kindle release and the knee-jerk reactions to it were made the same week as the latest report by the National Endowment for the Arts that decries the decline in reading by teens:

1. Young adults are reading fewer books in general.

• Nearly half of all Americans ages 18 to 24 read no books for pleasure.
•The percentage of 18- to 44-year-olds who read a book fell 7 points from 1992 to 2002.

Could it be that kids read, they just don't like reading on paper? Be a shame if our own preferences, predjudices and quibbles related to book format discourage reading by the next generation.

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (20)

Nicely put, Doug - I agree with your sentiments.

By the way, I wonder if we should necessarily interpret surveys that suggest that kids are reading fewer books to mean that they are reading less. They might be consuming lots of other kinds of material instead.

November 23, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Connell

Interesting post Doug. Although i am not completely agree with the analogy, the table comparison made me smile.

Referring to the last point about Kindle being mainly about the teens, i agree with your point at large. However, i doubt that Kindle, at least in its current form, is the correct answer. I can't help myself but comparing the OX laptop (OLPC initiative) and Kindle because both are sold these days at the same price. The question is what do we want to give our kids - the creativity limiting values embedded in Kindle or the open minded and intellectually stimulating experience of OX laptop? The price is the same, but the message is totally different.

November 23, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDima

Interesting post, but...

The thing is, people are depicting the Kindle as though it is replacing books. But this isn't the case.

What Kindle is replacing is the notebook computer. Because we already can read books with the notebook computer. Only:

- we can get them for free
- we can copy them share them all we want
- we can edit them, make comments about them, link to them
- we can make our own

We do this today on computers that cost roughly $1000. The Kindle lowers the cost of the device, but:

- we have to pay for the books
- we can't copy them and share them with our friends
- we can make notes, but we can't link to them
- we can't really make our own

See, the question here isn't, is Kindle a good replacement for books, but rather, is it worth exchanging our more expensive consumer for a device that doesn't let us do what we want with our books?

This question is *especially* relevant when we get f`ull-freature computers for less than the thee cost of a Kindle.

I think most people will see the Kindle for what it is: an attempt by publishers to 'control the platform' the way telephone companies control the mobile phone platform and the way Apple is (trying to) control the MP3 player platform.

So - the negative reaction is not surprising. The emotion comes from the sighs of exasperation from people who thought we'd been through all this and rejected closed proprietary platforms.

November 23, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Downes

Hi Stephen,

Two questions:

Where can I obtain a digital copy of the latest Ken Follett for free?

Do you use an mp3 player or iPod to listen to music or hump around your laptop?

All the very best,

Doug

November 23, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Hi Dima,

You pose the Kindle or OLPC device as an either/or proposition. How is giving a kid a book on a Kindle any more "creativity limiting" than giving him or her a paper book?

All the best,

Doug

November 23, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Thanks, John.

Stephen Krashen shares your skepticism about kids reading less in the NEA Report:
<http://sdkrashen.com/pipermail/krashen_sdkrashen.com/2007-November/000918.html>

(And I've been a little dubious myself: <http://www.doug-johnson.com/dougwri/decline-of-reading.html>)

All the best,

Doug

November 23, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

I saw Jeff Bezos on Charlie Rose last week (the night he d├ębuted Kindle). I was amazed at the Kindle and its ingenuity. While I agree that the Kindle is a bit expensive, I also made a comment on my blog that this was the way of the future (particularly in education) not because Kindle is essential, but the technology that Kindle utilizes is key. The way of the future is the Kindle-ish device - one that is portable, cheap, and able to be used anywhere with the wireless system. As an educator, I see Kindle-ish devices revolutionizing education; no more $10K-25K textbook purchases, no more "we can't afford that book" argument, no more "we don't offer that reading in our curriculum. Schools and teachers can really transform the world of education with a Kindle-type device. I look forward to seeing where this technology takes us. It is the way of the future - just as the PC and the Internet was a flattener, so, too, will be Kindles.

http://nlcommunities.com/communities/michaelparent/default.aspx
http://schoohousepyro.blogspot.com/

November 23, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMike Parent

My friend Mako puts it very well:

Geeks know that control of our communication technologies is control over what we can say, who we can say it to, and how and when we can say it. In an increasingly technologically mediated age, control over technology is not only the power to control our actions; it is the power to limit our possible actions. Our freedom to our technology is our freedom, full stop.

As far as I can tell, there hasn't been a technical impediment to creating a successful ebook reader for a while. It is only the intellectual property side of things that remains to be worked out, but there is no sign that this is going to happen anytime soon.

What we've learned the past few years is that DRM doesn't work. It doesn't protect IP. It doesn't let users use the content they are paying for in reasonable ways (making backups, using it on different types of devices, etc). We've learned that only fools invest serious amounts of money in DRM-ed content, and yes, that includes iTunes.

November 23, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterTom Hoffman

Hi Tom,

I guess I don't see DRM and copyleft or open-source as an either/or proposition. To me the world is richer for having a variety of philosophies and economic models. How is the Kindle a threat to my reading a blog or checking out a library book or even self-publishing my own novel?

If you don't like the proprietary format of Amazon, buy the book or don't read the novel. I don't think anyone has a Constitutional right to get the latest Stephen King in an electronic format without copyright protection. Last I checked anyway.

As one who sells creative content as well as giving it away, I still want some control over my work. (Remuneration from my writing has helped put two kids through college and allows me purchase the creative work of others.)

I agree with Lessing that current copyright law favors the producer and materials should move into the public domain much faster. I also believe that making back-ups, changing format etc, confusion over fair-use are all things that need to be looked at.

All the best and thanks for the commenting,

Doug

November 24, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Kindle just isn't pretty and it should be if it's going to replace books. When they come out with something that has aesthetic appeal, that isn't in a proprietary format feels delicious to use... I'll be onboard. I mean, if it was as pretty as an iPod... maybe. But,this thing? Not ever. It looks like a movie prop or some sort of head of its time teletype machine from the 70s. I know it sold out, but $500 for ugly? Let the lemmings have it; I think not.

Now where's my granny?

November 24, 2007 | Unregistered Commenteraudrey

Hi Audrey,

So it IS Ok to judge an e-book by its cover? ;-)

There is a black leather cover that comes with the Kindle (I think).
http://www.amazon.com/Amazon-A00400-Kindle-Book-Cover/dp/B000I6P1I2/ref=cm_lmf_tit_5_rsrscs1

Geeze, Amazon ought to hire me!

All the best,

Doug

November 24, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

"I guess I don't see DRM and copyleft or open-source as an either/or proposition."

They are two separate issues but yes, they are both either/or. Either your device takes away your freedom to do what you wish with your data (DRM) or it doesn't. Either software is free software (aka "open source") or it is proprietary. Could you please clarify as to how you perceive this NOT to be an either/or proposition?

"To me the world is richer for having a variety of philosophies and economic models."

A variety of "economic models" is fine. But is it not important to identify those that flagrantly deny our freedom? What you need to do is explicitly express why a proprietary software and DRM world makes the "world richer". I don't see how, but I'm all ears.

"How is the Kindle a threat to my reading a blog or checking out a library book or even self-publishing my own novel?"

If it is laden with DRM, then it is saying that the data that you legally obtain is not yours and is purposely limited in some way through technical measures backed by the DMCA. We should not promote that.

"As one who sells creative content as well as giving it away, I still want some control over my work."

That's fine. Then slap a CC license on your work and you're good to go. Or do you really mean - "I want control over other people's devices who have a copy of my work"? If so, please say that directly.

"I agree with Lessing that current copyright law favors the producer and materials should move into the public domain much faster. I also believe that making back-ups, changing format etc, confusion over fair-use are all things that need to be looked at."

Let's look at it now. DRM exists to prevent these sorts of uses. If you can do these things, then you can share/manipulate your information freely. Sorry Doug, but DRM is an either/or option. Do you favor controlling other people's devices through technical means (DRM) or not?

November 24, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Rock

"Hi Stephen,

Two questions:

Where can I obtain a digital copy of the latest Ken Follett for free?

Do you use an mp3 player or iPod to listen to music or hump around your laptop?"

I felt disappointed you did not address Stephen's post thoughtfully. Your first question confuses the issue. Computers are not built to get free stuff - one may or may not be able to use a computer to do so, but that is not the issue. The point is what you can do with your stuff after you get it.

Your second question is simply an attempt to avoid addressing Stephen by pointing out hypocrisy. That's like saying, "Peter, I know one of your computers runs Ubuntu GNU/Linux which uses some proprietary device drivers. Therefore, I won't address your arguments against proprietary software since you are a hypocrite." I certainly think it would be valid to call me a hypocrite (and we could further discuss that), but that doesn't mean my point should be ignored. I hope you take the time to respond to Stephen.

November 24, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Rock

"I guess I don't see DRM and copyleft or open-source as an either/or proposition."

Sorry, I didn't read carefully so to be clear...

DRM is either/or and so is software freedom. However, "copyleft" is not either/or. Copyleft is a particular implementation of free software. A choice that is not necessary but could proves useful given certain circumstances. If software is not copylefted that is not necessarily bad.

November 24, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Rock

Doug,

You are right, i should not position them either or. If you can and want to get both, go for it :)

As to limiting creativity, i think the video in the link explains it better than i do. But the basic idea is that with Kindle you can't do much with the book, but read it (kind of expected from an e-reader :), while with a laptop you can create your things based on the same book. It wouldn't be that striking if Kindle was cheaper, but if for the same money you can get something you can create with compared to something that is of a very limited (good, positive, and necessary, but limited) use, i think it is more important to give way to the OLPC laptop...

November 24, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDima

Hi Peter,

Thanks for your thoughtful response. I have to say that I don't consider myself any kind of expert on DRM or copyright/copyleft issues so the discussion is helpful to me.

First, I'm sorry you saw my answer to Mr. Downes as less than thoughtful. He did respond via email and I waiting for his permission to post his response. I didn't mean to imply hypocrisy on his part, only irony, perhaps, that he sees the usefulness of a dedicated device for listening, but not for reading. My experience with Mr. Downes is that he does a pretty fair job of sticking up for himself, but I am sure he appreciates your concern.

I guess I am really dense, but I still don't see the conflict between DNR and non-proprietary materials. My Mac runs both Linux and OSX. It runs both Office and NeoOffice. My Mac plays both podcasts and music I purchased from iTunes. I don't own one, but I understand an iPod will allow me to play the DRM music I buy as well as music I rip from CDs or non-copy protected music. The Kindle indeed reads books in a proprietary format, but also allow one to read a form of pdf document, blogs, and the Wikipedia.

If you are suggesting that an author, musician or other creative person be required to only release his/her work without any copyright protection including DRM, I would just simply disagree. As an author, I like remuneration for my work. Just a nasty old capitalist, I guess. Sorry.

I don't deny anyone their freedom to create and distribute his/her creations in any he/she wishes. I don't think consumers' "freedom" extends to having unlimited, unfettered use of another's IP. You certainly have the choice as a consumer to NOT buy or use DRM protected materials.

I would like to think a CC licensing agreement would be honored by everyone and be sufficient, but from my experience, that would simply be wishful thinking. From your blog, I see you teach in Taiwan and have traveled widely, so you have probably seen first hand the regard for IP many individuals AND cultures show when entire shopping centers are given over to pirated software, movies, and music (as well as design and fashion.) The "trust" system, doesn't work, IMHO.

If you buy a physical book, the IP in it is not yours. You have the right to read it, use it, even quote a certain percentage of it, but the IP still belongs to the publisher or author depending on the agreement. Yes, you can sell, lend or trade the physical medium (the bound book), but you cannot sell, lend or trade the IP of the book. This also holds for physical music CDs, computer software media, and movie DVDS. Since the Kindle is a IP storage device, as is a book, you can certainly loan it to others. (I am not sure about selling it.)

Like I said earlier that changes ought to be made to current copyright law that would ease restriction on back ups, etc.

Thanks again for writing and furthering this discussion.

All the very best,

Doug

November 25, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

"[...] I still don't see the conflict between DNR and non-proprietary materials."

I don't understand. Did you mean "DRM"? And what do you mean by "non-proprietary materials"?

"If you are suggesting that an author, musician or other creative person be required to only release his/her work without any copyright protection including DRM, I would just simply disagree."

Though intimately related, copyright and DRM are 2 different issues. Of course I don't suggest that all works should be initially released "without any copyright" (though expiration is good). While I think a public domain is good and necessary, there is lots of room for copyright - as you should know given the license on my blog and yours respectively. Defining the difference between "All Rights Reserved" and "without any copyright" is what the CC is about. All Rights Reserved simply doesn't fit 21st-century technology.

As for DRM, yes we will simply have to disagree. First, DRM is not "included" in copyright. It is a technical measure designed to enforce absolute control. In order for it to be effective on your personal computer (or e-book reader), it requires you to install proprietary software on your device that you have no control over. So supporting DRM means supporting forced obedience and an erosion of Fair Use law. I find this an extremist view. I understand why Big Media wants it but hope that you will reconsider and support the movement against DRM.

"I don't think consumers' "freedom" extends to having unlimited, unfettered use of another's IP."

I don't understand what you mean. "IP" is a misleading term as it includes many disparate laws. Are you talking about copyright? Patents? Trademarks? If copyright, then once again, a copyrighted work need not allow "unfettered" use. CC-licensed work is not left for "unfettered" use and is reasonable in many cases.

"You certainly have the choice as a consumer to NOT buy or use DRM protected materials."

No, actually you don't. If you use a free software device you don't have the choice. Well OK, you have the choice...but that choice is meaningless as you will not be able to do anything with the works you buy. The choice only exists so long as you give up your freedom first. To call it a "choice" is euphemistic.

"I would like to think a CC licensing agreement would be honored by everyone and be sufficient, but from my experience, that would simply be wishful thinking."

If your CCd work is used in an unauthorized manner, that is what the legal system is for so I'm not sure what else it is you would do. Are you saying you have experience CCing a work and then one of the rights you reserved were violated? So contact the person and if that fails, contact a lawyer, no?

"[...] you have probably seen first hand the regard for IP many individuals AND cultures show when entire shopping centers are given over to pirated software, movies, and music (as well as design and fashion.)"

Are you talking about copyright and trademark? If so, please say that as "IP" is confusing. As well, "piracy" is a serious crime that involves boarding a ship and stealing material goods - often murder is involved. This is a biased term that should be avoided. If you are against people making and selling (without authorization) CDs and DVDs of music and movies I share with you in a lack of sympathy. A CC NC license is perfect for such a situation.

"The "trust" system, doesn't work, IMHO."

I see. So you do not trust in trust. There is a legal system to help but if you are saying that DRM is what will fix what you perceive to be a problem I think you've been hoodwinked. The entertainment industry have created something perfect for your view. They've got DRM in the form of Treacherous Computing and backed by the DMCA and similar international law. Do you really support this?

"If you buy a physical book, the IP in it is not yours. You have the right to read it, use it, even quote a certain percentage of it, but the IP still belongs to the publisher or author depending on the agreement."

Are you talking about copyright? Or the patent on the way the book was bound? Or the trademarks that appear on/in the book? If you are referring exclusively to copyright, copyright covers the expression. Please avoid saying "IP" as it leads to confusion without clarification.

"Like I said earlier that changes ought to be made to current copyright law that would ease restriction on back ups, etc."

This is where I don't understand you. What changes do you propose? In order for DRM (which you apparently support) to be effective, we need anti-circumvention laws like the DMCA and exclusion of users who run free software systems. Please elaborate on the changes you feel should happen.

November 25, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Rock

Dima says:

"I can't help myself but comparing the OX laptop (OLPC initiative) and Kindle because both are sold these days at the same price."

True and not true at the same time. :) You get way more bang for your buck with the XO because you also buy for another human being a useful tool for education. Or is Kindle the same? 2fer?

My class watched that TED Talk by Lessig about a week ago. It's good. :)

November 26, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Rock

Hi Peter,

Again, I am not an intellectual property expert and have no legal training so I use IP as a generic term to cover copyright, trademarks, etc. (Oh, sorry I wrote DNR - Department of Natural Resources - accidentally. Guess I was thinking about ducks or something.) I don't know that philosophically copyright, trademarks are all that different. I'd appreciate knowing why you think the distinction is important.

Non-proprietary materials are those I see as not protected by DRM. An over-simplification, I'm sure, but I just don't want to lose the basic ideas here in details.

> All Rights Reserved simply doesn't fit 21st-century technology.

I thought that that was what DRM was all about - using technology to control the use of digital materials. Now ARR may not fit your philosophy or even be a viable economic model, but DRM seems to be all about 21st technology.

> Well OK, you have the choice....

How is having the choice between using Microsoft Office or NeoOffice not a choice? How is having the choice of reading a bestseller or a book in the public domain not having a choice? How is choosing to use Kindle or OX not a choice? Nobody is forcing anyone to use (pay for) commercial products that I can see.

>but that choice is meaningless as you will not be able to do anything with the works you buy

If I BUY a protected book, video, song, software, I can read it, watch it, listen to it, or use it. Yes, I can't alter it, trade it, or send copies to my 100 best friends, but as the creator of that material, that's fine with me.

> If your CCd work is used in an unauthorized manner, that is what the legal
> system is for so I'm not sure what else it is you would do. Are you saying you
> have experience CCing a work and then one of the rights you reserved were
> violated? So contact the person and if that fails, contact a lawyer, no?

>So you do not trust in trust. There is a legal system to help but if you
> are saying that DRM is what will fix what you perceive to be a problem I
> think you've been hoodwinked.

Peter, if we extend this argument to physical property, by your argument I should leave my car unlocked and then just go get a lawyer if it is stolen.

I think this may get close to the heart of the matter to me (and we may be hitting on some generational differences here since I am a geezer and you are more my daughter's age) that we need not treat intellectual property with the same degree of respect that we do physical property. If you use my car without my permission, you are in violation of the law and to keep this from happening I am expected to keep my car locked. If you use my book or song without permission, you are also in violation of the law, but you don't think I ought to try to "lock" my property to prevent this from happening.

Given that the earning potential from my books is much greater than the value of my 1999 Ford Ranger, this makes little sense to me as a property owner. And given that many of our students will be making a living by creating intellectual rather than physical property, I believe we are doing them a disservice by treating IP with less respect than physical property.

Peter, I am happy you have a passion for this and I hope you respond to this. I will happily let you have the last word here since the topic is very important to you.

Oh, I have an XO on order, too. Can't wait to get my hands on it!

Thank you again for the conversation and all the very best,

Doug

November 26, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

"I don't know that philosophically copyright, trademarks are all that different. I'd appreciate knowing why you think the distinction is important."

The distinction is important because all these laws have little in common. As you said, the commonality is more "philosophical" than anything else. For instance, all of these involve a process of the mind. But that commonality isn't going to help us decide upon just policy across the board. All of these need to be treated separately and have light shone on them separately. As well, the term "Intellectual Property" is biased in that it implies we should shape laws treating these processes of the mind as tangible goods. Here's a link that says it much clearer than I.

"Non-proprietary materials are those I see as not protected by DRM. An over-simplification, I'm sure, but I just don't want to lose the basic ideas here in details."

In the case of software, non-proprietary would indicate software either in the public domain or governed by a copyright license that respects the users' freedom and unencumbered by patents. Generally, it is the copyright and patent licenses that determines whether or not a work is free. Just because something doesn't have DRM on it doesn't mean it is free.

"Nobody is forcing anyone to use (pay for) commercial products that I can see."

If you send me an MS Office 2007 file, what products will I choose from to read it with as a user of free software? So the question is, what do you mean by "forced"?

"If I BUY a protected book, video, song, software, I can read it, watch it, listen to it, or use it."

Not necessarily. You also have to buy (or obtain) the proprietary technology that will allow you to do these limited things. Furthermore, from your point of view, the book is restricted, not "protected".

"Yes, I can't alter it, trade it, or send copies to my 100 best friends, but as the creator of that material, that's fine with me."

And this is where we disagree. I don't think it is OK for authors to lock down their published work this way. It is legal (in fact the laws heavily favor the copyright holder), but not ethical.

"Peter, if we extend this argument to physical property,"

Well we don't for obvious reasons. If we treat copyright law like property law we're bound to make unreasonable laws. When I copy ("steal") your book you still have your book. When I steal your car, you no longer have your car. Stealing cars is immoral for this reason.

"that we need not treat intellectual property with the same degree of respect that we do physical property"

Again, we cannot talk about IP in general to determine the degree of "respect" it should receive because its too broad a term. But we could, for instance, talk about trademark law and what is an appropriate degree of respect but our conclusion wouldn't fit copyright or patent law because the purpose of each of these laws is different.

"And given that many of our students will be making a living by creating intellectual rather than physical property, I believe we are doing them a disservice by treating IP with less respect than physical property."

Again, "IP" is too broad a term here. Why would we treat a trademark like tangible property? Can we not take copyright as an example? Or something else? We can't talk seriously about "IP" policy as there is no such thing as a law governing "IP". The attempt to draw an analogy with physical property just confuses the matter. If a car could be duplicated at virtually zero cost, would we not have significantly different property laws? What is "respect"? Is it not different regarding a patent? Different regarding a trademark or copyright? Respect for "IP" gets us nowhere.

November 26, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Rock

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Post:
 
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>