Your e-reader is reading you, tracking and collecting data on your bookish habits. When and where did you put the book down? Or take notes? Or reread a passage? Publishers now have access to detailed information about exactly how people use a book. Did most readers finish? Which sections did readers favorite or ‘highlight’? The major players in e-book publishing—Amazon, Apple and Google—can easily track how far readers are getting into novels and nonfiction, how long they spend and which search terms they use to find books. Book apps for tablets like the iPad, Kindle Fire and Nook record how many times readers open the app and how much time they spend reading. Retailers and some publishers are beginning to sift through the data, gaining unprecedented insight into how people engage with books.
think of it as the collective intelligence of all the people reading on
Kindle," says Amazon spokeswoman. But how will all this data be used?
Who can access it? The Electronic Frontier Foundation has pushed for
legislation to prevent information about consumer’s reading habits from
being turned over to law enforcement agencies without a court’s
Of course this is creepy. It is not "transparency"
because the light shines in only one direction. On the other hand, I
would love to use this system myself... if it were Opt-In. I
could then ask my pre-readers (I thank at least 40 of them at the back
of every book) to turn on this reporting feature when reading an early
draft. I'd be able to tell where in the book they slowed down, perhaps
having to struggle with a passage. Or put the book down, even
temporarily in order to do homework or get sleep or feed the kids. Or
if found a section tiresome or noteworthy. I want it for product
quality control! And hence I can see why the big corporations want it
too.... without the "opt-in" part.
That's the part we should resist.
==Looking and Looking Back...==
again, the reflex to resist can get over-wrought. Take this exercise in
tendentious pattern-recognition as an example that's both illuminating
and deeply misleading. This article compares 7 "sinister" technologies from Orwell's novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four"
to things we see today. Parallels are easy to come by! And since
Orwell's book is the archetype of what I call the "self-preventing
prophecy" - motivating millions to act in defiance of whomever they see
becoming Big Brother - I don't mind such contemporary alert-warnings!
(Indeed, when it comes to the NewSpeak aspects of lobotomizing Twitter
feeds, I do agree.) Still, you need some grains of salt. And a
willingness to say "Yes, but..." and to remind yourself of the myriad
ways that tech pushes in the opposite direction.
Far more disturbing is this brief excerpt from an interview
given by a FBI spokeswoman, about "National Security Letters" in which
the government can demand information about you from third parties (e.g.
your internet provider) without ever even going to a judge for a
Now as you may know, I am a moderate about the
government's access to reasonable levels of surveillance and even
secrecy. But in absence of any supervision, any human beings will
naturally drift toward grabbing more and more, redefining "reasonable"
as they go along, without accountability or criticism. There are ways
that accountability could be assured while maintaining an ability to
surveil legitimate threats. I've written about dozens both in The Transparent Society and in online articles. Here is one example: Free the Inspectors General!
==Existence and Other News==
How will the world end?
Salon recently ran a series of snippets from my new novel, all of them
(entertainingly, I hope) relating to Doomsdays... or the many ways our
world might end. Oh, but in fact I am a cheerful guy!
For those craving different questions and insights, here’s an interview with Brenda Cooper at the Futurist.
Robinette Kowal - one of my favorite “whipper-snapper” young authors of
the next generation - runs a nifty cool web site that now features a
series called “My Favorite Bit”
in which wrtiers are invited to describe a snippet of scribbling - from
a novel or story, that made them especially proud or happy. In my own
contribution to Mary’s series, I dance around one of the best (according
to many pre-readers) moments in Existence... without actually describing, or spoiling the scene. Instead, I use it as an excuse to discuss the importance of suspense.
The Wall Street Journal review of Existence
is clearly very positive and boils down to “very very interesting from
many directions.” Alas, I wish they had actually said that in a
Salon Compilation of Brin Articles:
These range from sober assessments of how technology might affect
transparency, privacy and freedom (leading to my book The Transparent
Society) to a discussion or why our personal computers no longer carry a
basic programming language and what this has done to our kids. From
appraisals of Tolkien and Star Wars (leading to Star Wars on Trial) to a
survey of several dozen plausible and less-likely ways the world might
end! From my Ray Bradbury tribute to ways that the Internet just might
be turning us into gods. Have fun with ideas.
Like your version of a novel on audio? The new edition of Existence by Audible uses three narrators to
excellent effect, making this complex and tightly interleaved tale come
alive with real drama. Let me know what (some of you) think of it!
==Government Science Fiction?==
Pitches for Government Sci Fi!
As a member of SIGMA, the think tank of scientifically trained science
fiction authors, I have consulted with a wide range of agencies... e.g.
about future threats & opportunities. Now Wired offers snippets from
stories that various sci fi writers might (in theory) create to rally
support for different US Government departments. The outlines are
mostly (except for the initial puerile-political snark) pretty
=== Appearing in Seattle and Portland and at Comicon ==
Drop by http://www.davidbrin.com to see my schedule across the next couple of weeks!
And more soon...