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Thursday
Mar192009

Does Kindle spell the end of intellectual freedom?

 

In a recent Christian Science Monitor editorial, librarian Emily Walsch writes:

... Kindle is on fire in the marketplace. Who could resist reading "what you want, when you want it?" Access to more than 240,000 books is just seconds away. And its "revolutionary electronic-paper display ... looks and reads like real paper."

But it comes with restrictions: You can't resell or share your books – because you don't own them. You can download only from Amazon's store, making it difficult to read anything that is not routed through Amazon first. You're not buying a book; you're buying access to a book. No, it's not like borrowing a book from a library, because there is no public investment. It's like taking an interest-only mortgage out on intellectual property.

and adds

Digital rights management (DRM), which Kindle uses to lock in its library, raises critical questions about the nature of property and identity in digital culture.

Some questions come to mind.

  • As long as both print and Kindle versions of a book are available, how does Kindle's DRM limit impinge on my rights? Kindle is offering a convenient format, not sole access to sets of information.
  • How is what we are now experiencing with e-books with competing file formats any different from the VHS/Beta or BlueRay/HDTV battles in video? Why were we not worreid about the end of intellectual freedom then - only mad about the inconvenience?
  • Why is "renting" a book from Amazon any more dangerous than renting a movie through Netflix or from BlockBuster. Is this a new species of format bigotry?
  • Are we moving to culture that leases rather than owns - property, ideas, values? Is change so rapid that we refuse to invest in something (and be stuck with it) that may be obsolete tomorrow? Is this a good survival strategy - or the end of civilization as we know it? (The science fiction novel Futureland by Walter Mosely describes what a rental culture might look like - along with postliteracy.)
  • How can both anti and pro censorship groups hate the same device?
  • How much are librarians like Ms Walsch writing out of fear of an unknown future for their institutions  (and jobs) rather than concern about censorship? What happens when it is more economical to buy or rent each patron a digitial copy of something than it is to buy a physical copy, catalog it, shelve it, manage it, loan it, and eventually discard it? I've written before that I don't yet know the function of libraries when digital text become so inexpensive, useful and convenient that the old purpose of the library fades away. It is scary, but I don't think setting up hollow men is the best response by our profession.

I am not sure Walsch makes her case that ...

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.

Is a culture that "leases" its books rather than "own" its books at greater risk of censorship? Perhaps one day when there are no alternatives. But I am not losing much sleep over the issue tonight.

(OK, Stephen, Peter and Tom - get ready to write..)

Wednesday
Mar182009

At last - a Horizon report for K-12

The future is here. It's just not evenly distributed. -Wm Gibson

Horizon reports have been a part of my regular reading diet for a number of years. Although aimed at a post-secondary audience, these prognostications of what technologies will have the biggest impact on education I've felt were applicable to K-12 as well.  I just added a few years to the timeline.

Happily, there is now a Horizon report just for K-12. Following the same format, the New Media Consortium uses a panel of illustrious experts (Hi, Kim, Hi, Julie!) from around the world to identify and organize new technologies by "adoption horizon."

This first issue for K-12 lists collaborative environments and online communication tools as now being adopted; mobiles and cloud computing as 3-4 years out; and smart objects and the personal web on the farthest our at 5 years.

The report also identifies 5 trends and 5 challenges in educational technology. I thought it interesting that  assessment of student work and filtering were singled out as factors slowing technology adoption. Yup. What was not mentioned (or I missed it), was the "test-score-as-sole-measure-of-educational-success syndrome working against the constuctivist use of technology that the authors of this report clearly favor.

In fact, I am surprised that online testing and data-driven decision making didn't make the cut as impactful technologies in the immediate horizon. (They are influencing what's happening in the classroom right now far more than "collaborative environments.") I'd have added more mundane technologies like interactive white boards, student response systems, student/parent portals, audio enhancement technologies, and even gaming - less sexy or technologically PC (no pun intended) - as having far bigger impacts than wikis and Sype and such on today's classrooms. Or maybe these were all considered old hat.

I personally would have reversed the first two "horizons" in terms of likelihood of large scale adoption since the mid-range technologies are about stuff (mobiles) and just tweaking what we've always done (cloud-computing) rather than changing actual teaching styles. Given the state of educational budgets, cloud computing may get real popular, real fast for financial reasons.

Anyway, this is an interesting and worthwhile read. Always fun to gaze into somebody else's crystal ball.

Monday
Mar162009

The ASUS Eee 1000 HA

Just testing a little ASUS that came into my office today. Trying to see if this might be a logical step in my move to the cloud computing. I need to get a better feel for this keyboard and track pad, but all in all, the experience isn't too bad. Much better than the original ASUS Eee PC 701 I purchased in 2007.

Is this a technology one could actually live with - or only use in an emergency or for special circumstances like travel? Am I too spoiled by uisng my larger, more powerful laptop?

On this model it is the lack of screen real estate rather than keyboard size that is giving me adjustment problems. Do cramped screens lead to cramped thoughts?

And where is the caps lock indicator? Ouch!

The Explorer web browser really sucks. But Firefox downloaded and works well. The machine comes with a bunch of Windows garbage that will take some time to get rid of. Trash MicrosoftWorks and load OpenOffice. Download GoogleGears. My original ASUS came with Linux and I think I like that better.

I certainly wouldn't hesitate giving this to kids. And I have to remember that the machine costs $350, not $2500. I need to give this machine a longer run, but so far - thumbs up.