Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Readers Should Not Be Renters

Maria Bustillos, the Nation (annotation mine):

The very role and meaning of libraries relies on their right to own books, because books that can expire are books that can disappear permanently — books that can be taken away. There is a cultural, a political, even a civilizational danger in this vulnerability that can’t be overestimated.

Sourcing is the glue that holds humanity’s knowledge together,” as Jonathan Zittrain wrote last year [Correction: earlier this year.] in The Atlantic in an article about the Internet’s weaknesses as a cultural archive. When a link disappears, when an online publisher goes out of business, readers, researchers, and scholars will hit a dead end—unless digital libraries are given the same power to archive that traditional libraries have had for centuries. Digital media is recklessly burning its own record to ash behind it, so we need institutions and systems to affirmatively protect and preserve 21st-century knowledge.

So much of the consumer’s digital world seems designed to be a temporary state. DRM attempts to restrict media to a single copy verified every time it is opened. Software licenses make it clear that we only own the hardware and rent everything that makes it valuable. The promise of something like digital copies of books or movies is that they are only ghosts of their physical versions. But so much of what we now create exists solely as bits, and it is all stored in a semi-ephemeral state within the controlled architecture of software and services. I do not think we have come to terms with this, in Bustillos’ words, “cultural […] vulnerability”.