In George Orwell’s “1984,” government censors erase all traces of news articles embarrassing to Big Brother by sending them down an incineration chute called the “memory hole.”
On Friday, it was “1984” and another Orwell book, “Animal Farm,” that were dropped down the memory hole — by Amazon.com.
In a move that angered customers and generated waves of online pique, Amazon remotely deleted some digital editions of the books from the Kindle devices of readers who had bought them.
An Amazon spokesman, Drew Herdener, said in an e-mail message that the books were added to the Kindle store by a company that did not have rights to them, using a self-service function. “When we were notified of this by the rights holder, we removed the illegal copies from our systems and from customers’ devices, and refunded customers,” he said.
Amazon effectively acknowledged that the deletions were a bad idea.
This is a troubling aspect of the digital age. In the old paper age, once a book was released to the public that was it. It was out there in people’s bookshelves and on their nightstands. If someone decided after the fact that whatever was published shouldn’t be out there it was too late. The toothpaste was out of the tube, and there was no putting it back in.
But now, in an Orwellian twist of technoligical development (I told you it was ironic), that’s not necessarily the case any more. As more and more of our literature and communication goes digital the archives of those things because less and less secure. If there is no hard copy, those with the power and the means to erase what they don’t want you to see can.
I’m also concerned about the original texts being changed, too.
For centuries scholars have compared different editions of texts, whether sacred, such as the Bible, or in literature, such as James Joyce’s Ulysses. What was changed from one hard copy to another matters.
Let me give you one recent instance:
On July 25, 2005 I blogged about Cuba and Venezuela,
Why bother with all this talk of “erradicating illiteracy” when people are not allowed to read freely?
- Chávez has already come out with his version of Don Quijote For Dummies: just this year he took the excellent, definitive Don Quijote de la Mancha 4th Centennary edition by the Read Academia Española, abridged it, removed the essay “Una novela para el siglo XXI” by Mario Vargas Llosa, and replaced that essay with a short preface by José Saramago.
- The essence of Vargas Llosa’s censored preface is that Don Quijote’s a free men’s novel. Saramago, Nobel Prize winner and Portuguese Communist Party member, has gone on the record (link to an article in Spanish) saying he hates democracy.
- Chávez is using the Cuban “Yo si puedo” method — while Cubans are sent to concentration camps for owning banned books — the books Fidel doesn’t want the people of Cuba to read.
- Investor’s Business Daily (via Publius Pundit) reports that Chávez’s new television network is designed to put the region’s free press out of business
Yo si puedo, but only if it’s what Hugo and Fidel say is OK.
As you may recall, Chavez detained Mario Vargas Llosa upon arriving at Caracas airport.
Buy the hard copy. Keep it.
Just One Minute:
If Amazon wants to run the irony meter past the red and off the scale, they should follw up by e-deleting all Kindle copies of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.
And, by the way, Truffaut’s movie version of Fahrenheit 451 is excellent, too.