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Old Blog and Entry

by on May 3, 2011

I started this blog before picking my current project focus. I was motivated to share class information from WMST488A with folks who could not take the class. It was motivated by how easy it is to upload things online and a history of sharing books and classes with people who did not have access to them. The two entries below are highlights from the blog.

Hello Internet v. 01101010 01101011

We live in an information saturated environment. We only pretend that information is free flowing and unstoppable. Acknowledging physical limitations is not enough. We must look at our hands and see the blood that drips from them. Every notebook gathering dust, every unrecorded lecture, every file tucked away into the recess of our hard drives is an act of involuntary manslaughter. We are engaged in the negligent destruction of boundless knowledge.

This blog is an attempt to move beyond the traditional hand wringing over the privilege of a higher-level education and the inability of others to get access to it. This is an attempt to share what I learn in WMST488A by using social media to catalog my class experiences. In the humanities, it is criminal to neglect the potential of social media in pedagogy. Most texts are available for free online anyway and the only thing that changes about classes is the collection of bodies paying tuition. We do a disservice by not letting people access this information, thereby denying them the chance to get some variant of a college education.

This blog is an experiment in chronicling and sharing one’s experiences so that others may benefit from them. It is probably doomed to fail, but I must at least try to scream before I give up to silence.

Reflection on ebooks

Last class, we spent a lot of time mulling over the ways in which we can now read books. We can read them in the traditional form, on a Kindle, nook, or iPad, and on the computer. I think our interaction with books, while important, is not the most exciting thing about ebooks. I have yet to see any discussion of their potential to function as both a free good and a well of knowledge.

Take your typical online transaction.

The paper book costs between $9 and $12 when you include shipping, while the Kindle edition costs $8. The ebook is slightly cheaper and, given that you have a way to read it and are not averse to the prospect of reading on new media, it makes the most sense to buy it.

The ebook transactional framework leaves out key options that paper book buyers have available to them. DRM makes sharing an ebook harder. It also makes stumbling on cheaper copies of your book almost impossible.  I looked over several online retailers for the Fanon book and each gave roughly the same price. I could easily buy the Fanon book from a friend for much But I didn’t. I found my copy of Black Skin, White Masks lying in a big box of unwanted books outside the Philosophy Library.

This acquisition made me wonder about the potential of free ebooks. Several online distribution spots for free ebooks exist already, but the use of free ebooks is not widespread. People seem to prefer paying for their ebooks and shun the free variants.  I can think of several reasons for this. Ebook users may want to support the author by paying for the book or they may see the free variants as somehow inferior, unfamiliar, or dangerous. Maybe if free ebooks were thought of as more like library books and less like dangerous knock offs, they would be more readily adopted by the general public.

Free ebooks as library books still face some conceptual challenges. Who would distribute these books? How would we compensate the distributors for the server and bandwidth expenditures? These are all very important questions to ask, but I think a viable alternative to the e-library system already exists. Suppose we do to books, what we did to music. We digitize them entirely and make them  available to rip, burn, and share without any DRM restrictions. Inevitably, worldwide book piracy would spring up and we could easily share thousands of books within minutes.

The potential of a global book piracy is exciting because it could directly impact millions of disadvantaged people ravaged by  unequal access to education. The widespread availability of new technologies and high Internet penetration rates makes learning through digital mediums much easier for some countries (see the case of cell phone learning in South Africa).  Those who do not live in countries with a similar infrastructure could benefit  from cheap and durable technology loaded with educational material. The One Laptop per Child project provides a model for how this technology could be developed and distributed.

Of course, there are legal and copyright problems with the piracy model but it shows the potential that ebooks have to be something other than just another way of looking at the same old text.

EDIT: Think giving laptops to kids is a bad idea? Check out this Colbert clip to see just how durable laptops can be.

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