At the end of the film 2010, Dr. Heywood Floyd looks up at the new sun that had been created in our solar system and observes, "You can tell your children of the day when everyone looked up and realized that they were only tenants of this world. We have been given a new lease and a warning from the landlord."
Amazon's recent Orwell (and Orwellian) debacle served as a similar wake up call for me as a Kindle user.
People are still debating over whether Amazon handled the situation properly. Some, including our own Joe Wikert, have offered suggestions on how Amazon could have handled it better.
But what bothers me is not whether Amazon was right or wrong in removing books from our Kindles -- it's the fact that they had (and still have) the technology to do it at all.
In a recent Slate column titled "Why 2024 Will Be Like Nineteen Eighty-Four," Farhad Manjoo warns that we've just glimpsed the future of book banning. Sure it sounds alarmist now, but consider the possibilities. As Manjoo observes, Amazon's mass deletion "sets up a terrible precedent. Amazon deleted books that were already available in print, but in our paperless future—when all books exist as files on servers—courts would have the power to make works vanish completely."
Unthinkable? Perhaps. But now we've been shown that it is technically possible.
Don't buy a Kindle until Amazon updates its terms of service to prohibit remote deletions. Even better, the company ought to remove the technical capability to do so, making such a mass evisceration impossible in the event that a government compels it.
I'm not quite ready to go that far, but I do think we need to keep the pressure on Amazon. And the incident has made me think twice about purchasing Kindle editions of books.
I'm sure Amazon didn't intend to send a message when they deleted those files from our Kindles, but a message was sent nonetheless.
It was a reminder that we do not really own the e-books we purchase from Amazon.
It was a reminder that when we abandon physical media for digital we give up a lot of rights.
And it was a reminder that the media giants who sell us that digital content wield an ever-increasing amount of power.
We Kindle users just got a warning from the landlord. For the future's sake we better pay attention.
Has the incident made you think differently about the Kindle or the future of ebooks?
Follow me on Twitter @phigginbotham
What I'm reading now on my Kindle: Nothing. I'm reading a dead-tree edition of American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21stCentury by Kevin Phillips.