I, Robot (Or, Bibliodrome Here I Come)

Posted on July 7, 2010

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There are more developments coming down the line, probably fairly soon, for ebook readers. Research firms are working on flexible screens for the U.S. military. Once adopted and in production, we could very light-weight ereaders that could get rolled up like a print newspaper or magazine, or placed in a notebook, or (irony of ironies) inserted into a print book.

One thing that’s going to harm the long-term health of ebooks is to lock specific file formats to specific hardware. In particular, the Kindle and the iPad might be the latest gimmick-gizmos that are getting people to buy and use (read) ebooks. But ultimately these devices are not about getting people to read (or be technologically forward); they are solely about greed. Read our ebooks on our devices, both Amazon and Apple are saying.

In this case, I’d have to begrudgingly give Google (that good old do-no-evil megacorp) the nod. Google Editions — which could be launched any day now — seems to take a more long-term approach. You can purchase an ebook from Google Editions and that entitles you to whatever ebook file form to read on whatever device you want. Just think: What if Fox or ESPN developed a video format that could only be seen on specific video players (televisions) that they also marketed? Many consumers would be irritated and would easily see through the ruse as only a reflection of corporate greed.

In Google Editions, I could purchase an ebook and have access to reading it on my ereader, my PC (or Mac), on my cell phone or my MP3 player of choice. I don’t have to buy 6 different formats. Sounds more consumer friendly. As a publisher, I’ve already signed Quale Press titles on and I’m just waiting for the roll-out to see how things shake out. We’ll get “royalties,” and our authors will get their share from that.

One other thing caught my eye in that NY Times article on developments for ereaders: “Will the e-reader be reduced to a tiny chip that can be implanted in our retina by 2015?” Sounds bionic. Sounds scary. Sounds interesting. Maybe not in our retinas, but with advancements in neurophysiology, in determining how we use electrical impulses (triggered by chemical reactions) in our brains to process sensory input (sound, touch, visual, etc.), language and memories, I don’t think it will be that far into the future when we have the capability of creating processing chips that can be implanted in our brains that can allow direct input of sensory data. Instead of using devices like MP3 players or TVs, we can “pipe” music directly into our brains. Also video. And books. The possibilities are endless. Even the porn industry could be served. One could “pipe” in specific tactile sensory data for any physical act, with anyone. The ultimate virtual life. Boundless possibilities for good. Boundless possibilities for evil. And, of course, boundless possibilities for products and services that can be sold.

We need to be thinking of these issues before we get there (and have some sort of ethical framework to tackle this quickly advancing brave new world). You can’t duck your head into the sand and say it can’t come, nor can you legislate it from never happening (think: black market). What we put into our consciousness directly affects our behavior and our identities. This type of technology can help us shape ourselves away from our imperfections, or allow the worst of us to manipulate us for their good (not ours). (Think of those fears of subliminal advertising.)

If we can directly plug stuff into our brains, then the ability for others to pull stuff from our brains would probably exist as well. Our thoughts, memories could be streamed out of us. Privacy would not exist. At all.

These issues are no longer impossible sci-fi scenarios. We need a heads-up. We need to know where we are going and why. It’s unavoidable (and really should not be avoided). Let’s get there before some corporation has already locked it all up and sewn up the political and governmental muscle.

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Posted in: ebooks