The last post was Mr. Guy asking us to be a little patient with the so-called problems some folks are having with the Kindle.
And I promised another post about a second subject having to do with the Kindle, but now there might have to be a third, since B&N has now entered the electronic reader marketplace in direct competition with Amazon.
No. Don’t worry. Won’t get into that.
This second Kindle post is about a more important subject relating to what’s happening in the Kindle marketplace. This is a much more disturbing story, and connects, I fear, much more directly to our work as knowledge services directors in our companies and organizations.
By now we’ve all heard about the Kindle 1984 “scandal,” as it’s been called, Amazon’s remote deletion of e-books from the Kindle. On July 20Farhad Manjoo posted on Slate his reaction to the story.
Turns out it wasn’t just Orwell’s titles but Ayn Rand’s as well, as perhaps others. Amazon acknowledged the error and, according to Manjoo, promised that it will no longer delete customers’ books.
Not too impressed, Manjoo is wondering if Amazon’s action (the deletions, not the apology) “paves the way for book-banning’s digital future.” Now this is truly a scary proposition, with enormous implications for knowledge workers. For people like us, we live and die (professionally speaking – and hopefully even personally as well) by our ability to distinguish between what’s good and what’s bad in the information, knowledge, and strategic learning realm. We also, as knowledge professionals, willingly share our skills for making such distinctions with our corporate affiliates, and if we have recommended to or assisted a colleague in accessing an electronic tool that one day just isn’t there anymore, we have a bleak future waiting for us.
Anne Mintz and her colleagues got us to thinking about these things in her book, Web of Deception: Misinformation on the Internet. While the disappearance of information wasn’t the subject of the book, much of the advice contained therein can be applied in the current environment (especially the advice provided in Carol Ebbinghouse’s essay on legal advice on the Internet: “Make Sure to Read the Fine Print”). And, as Manjoo notes, in Harvard law professor Jonathan Zittrain’s book (The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It), the concept of “tethering” appliances and, in our case, content is dangerous if that “tethering” is under the control of forces that are not, ultimately, concerned with the benefit of the appliance – or the content – to the person or organization that has acquired it.
But we are so tempted by the newness of it all, aren’t we? And we’re just human after all. We want to trust the people and the companies that are bringing us information that reports on and describes other people’s knowledge development experiences, information that – fundamental to our work – is then made available for sharing as needed. So what’s the solution for those of us who build our careers on advising others about these matters?
For one thing, we have to use incidents like the recent Amazon deletions to keep the dialogue going. We have to make sure that our intellectual and professional leaders and, yes, even our political leaders are made aware of how important it is to figure out how to prevent such incidents in the future. And the time to do it is now – as the growth of digital information still accounts for only part of all recorded information. In the current environment, hard copy books and other hard copy materials are purchased and become the property of the buyer, who cannot necessarily be forced to return the materials, as Manjoo points out. But with an electronic reading device, the “purchaser” is acquiring a service, one which can have a multiplicity of variations and restrictions, depending on what is stated in the service’s terms of agreement?
Knowledge professionals can also – in discussions in the workplace, in brown-bag lunchtime workshops, in project teams and task forces, in practice groups – review company practices and procedures. Beyond the immediate discussion, when informed (and even legal) advice is needed, experts can be identified and invited to contribute to a strategic learning activity, either in the workplace or – more likely – at professional conferences. There are definitely ways to keep thinking about this scary possibility. We’re the knowledge thought leaders in our companies and our opinions count. We should be advising our organizations about this.