Martha Randolph Carr Martha Randolph Carr, 4/13/2009 [Archive]

Censorship Kindle and Amazon

Censorship, Kindle and Amazon.com

By Martha Randolph Carr

It was perhaps inevitable that Jeff Bezos and Amazon.com, the company he founded have started deciding what's okay for the rest of us to read and what might be a little too hot to handle.

Quietly, without any fanfare and during a holiday weekend Amazon started delisting from their site any books they deemed as having adult content. These titles were also removed from their search engines as well making it very difficult if not impossible for buyers to locate without the entire title and name of the author. In other words, they became invisible.

Apparently, Bezos and company have a better handle on what's too much for our delicate systems more than the U.S. Supreme Court, which deemed that censorship of materials was detrimental to a democracy.

During the turn of this new century there was a general question put forth by the media asking what was the greatest invention of the past century. Everyone wanted to know what device or new idea had made the greatest impact on the quality of life.

The number one choice turned out to be the Gutenberg printing press in the beginning of the 15th century, which used moveable type and gave access to general information to the public for the first time in the history of mankind.

Up until that point it had been very easy for kings and despots to control the information the serfs and peasants received and that made it all too easy to spin the message. Giving everyone the real dirt lead to democracy and change and is the reason Thomas Jefferson said he'd rather have a free press than a free government. Generally speaking, a free government often stays that way as a result of a free press.

Misinformation or spin is not just a problem of the Middle Ages. During WWII Japanese citizens threw themselves off of cliffs at the approach of American soldiers because they had come to believe the propaganda about all of us being cold blooded monsters. The spread of information through Third World countries has also helped inspire movements that have changed entire governments.

On a smaller, but equally as important scale, there are also countless coming-of-age stories about someone who was a little different than everyone else in their community and they tripped over a book with a character that was just like them. Suddenly, they realized they were not only alone but as their definition of normal expanded, they saw there was a much bigger, more tolerant world out there.

Many publishers, editors and authors are already reporting that gay content of any kind has caused a delisting at Amazon. Imagine if this was happening at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic when there was so much misinformation and so many people from all walks of life needed to know the truth. Erotic romance is already on the list as well.

This brings the topic around to the heavy marketing by Bezos and Amazon of the Kindle reading device and the possibilities of the new policy and policies to follow. Right after 9/11 the federal government wanted to get their hands on the lists of what every citizen was checking out of the public libraries so that they could ferret out possible anti-Americans as based on a very loose set of criteria.

Librarians everywhere refused and stood their ground in the face of possible prosecution in order to protect the public's ability to access information freely. They were upholding the idea of democracy in the face of Big Brother and eventually won. Everyone who uses a Kindle is leaving a repository of what they have purchased with Amazon who can at any point turn over the lists ad hoc to anyone who requests the information. The ability to study other forms of government or religion or lifestyles leads to not repeating the past and more compassion in general. Limiting information and parceling it out to other adults based on what a small group has deemed acceptable has always resulted in bad news.

Amazon.com is a private corporation and therefore can make policies about its web site that we may not like. However, they are also quickly becoming the largest market for smaller presses and hard to find books. Therefore the rest of us can also choose to think about what we may be giving up for a little convenience and go shop elsewhere.

We can also continue to buy a book instead of downloading a file and when we're done, pass the book onto the next person. It's another small gesture that levels the playing field and protects corners of the truth that others don't always want to be made visible. Truth is never to be feared and when set loose always does its own work.

If you'd like to get involved in the 2009 America Challenge to raise funds for community-based charities email me at Martha@CagleCartoons.com for more information. Together we're going to build stronger communities and empower ourselves.

Martha Randolph Carr's latest book, A Place to Call Home, a memoir about the reemergence of U.S. orphanages is available wherever books are sold. If you'd like Martha to come and speak to your group visit: www.newvoicespeakers.com. Email Martha at: Martha@caglecartoons.com or visit www.martharandolphcarr.com.

© 2009 Martha Randolph Carr. Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate. For info call Sales at (805) 969-2829 or email Sales@cagle.com.

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