I'm not sure what direction the internet is taking, but this weekend I saw some pretty worrisome things. And I'm not sure that I like it.
First up, Google books. Have you been there? Originally I saw a list of Autumnal book links, and went to check them out. Old, lovely books. In their entirety, and available for free download. Well, that's exciting, I thought, since they are obviously way out of print. Well then I went to update my sidebar book list, and went Googling around for a link to the wonderful book by Reg Down that we're reading, The Festival of Stones, and there it was. On Google books!
This book was published in 2005. And it's there. A huge, whopping portion of it. And why? Well, apparently the publisher has given Google the go-ahead to list it online. You can't download it, but there's a heck of a lot of it there. Really! Doesn't that just seem more than a teensy bit wrong to you? I wonder what Reg Down thinks about this. Or if he even knows?! And what's more, I wonder how many other books that are still in print are listed. And I wonder how this affects the authors of said books, because don't they get paid a portion of book sales? Surely it's a very small portion, but a portion nonetheless.
And are people thinking... Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?
Second up, Big Brother Amazon.com. I was clicking through a host of blogs and on more than one occasion I clicked on someone's page and WAH! There was MY name in some little Amazon advertisement box. It said, "Hi Sara..." One of these blogs I had never even been to before. Ever. And it really freaked me out.
So I investigated it a little bit further, and it turns out that those little boxes are part of a program called the Amazon Honor System. People put them on their sites to solicit monetary donations, which are paid directly through your Amazon account. And who doesn't have an Amazon account? It knew my name because I have an account, and the little box recognized me just like Amazon recognizes me when I go to their site. I don't even have to log in... somehow it knows. Which is bad enough, right? But then I realized that Amazon can track me... and my movements on the web, or at least on any page that has an Amazon donations box. It's all a little too big brothery for me.
Amazon said it's not tracking people, at least not for now... there probably aren't enough little donation boxes out there yet to make it worthwhile. But give it a month or a year, and who knows? They may change their minds... Wired magazine had a very convincing article about this.
I don't want to be tracked. I don't want to see my name on websites across the globe. I don't want to see recent books splayed out online. That's what a library is for, am I right? I want to have to get out of my chair, walk a few blocks to the library, search through the shelves, and plop my little card down on the counter. And only then do I want to hear someone say my name... because they know me. As they should, since I come in every week.
I'm constantly amazed by the wonder and horror of the internet. My world is ever growing smaller, and in one sense that's great because I have found such community and friendship online. Inspiration and hope and empathy. It's the price of this double-edged connectedness that I wonder about. How much privacy and personal freedom can I wager? And do I really have a choice?