Kindle and concentration camps

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 09: founder an...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Hearing that the Amazon Kindle had been compared to an eight-track player Alan Kaufman decided he needed a real attention grabber analogy if he was to gather the eyeballs necessary to get Huntington Post readers to click away from pictures of the latest porn actress claiming to be Tiger Wood’s mistress.

Not content for hyperbole he went straight for ridiculous and offensive. That’s right, Kaufman decided to use the Holocaust to make his point:

When I hear the term Kindle I think not of imaginations fired but of crematoria lit.

I believe my reaction is best expressed in the language of teenager texters everywhere: WTF?

Is Kaufman really insinuating that e-readers are akin to racial genocide? Even for the Huntington Post this is absurd (but its lack of logic is par for the course I am afraid).

Kaufman tendentiously connects Nazi policies with new technology and the process of putting books into digital form and decides that a literary holocaust is upon us.

The hi-tech campaign to relocate books to Google and replace books with Kindles is, in its essence, a deportation of the literary culture to a kind of easily monitored concentration camp of ideas, where every examination of a text leaves behind a trail, a record, so that curiosity is also tinged with a sense of disquieting fear that some day someone in authority will know that one had read a particular book or essay. This death of intellectual privacy was also a dream of the Nazis. And when I hear the term Kindle, I think not of imaginations fired but of crematoria lit.

But his argument is made up of nothing more than his own lack of shame in using the Holocaust to comment on the Kindle and some stream of consciousness paragraphs about the history of the Holocaust, Nazi attitudes about technology and books and a tacked on conclusion that links this all to the Kindle.

I hesitate to even try and counter this argument for fear of giving it more readers.  But allow me to point out a few things that should have been obvious:

  1. Considering that no actual human lives are involved, the use of the Holocaust in this column is senseless and borderline offensive.
  2. Given that e-readers are owned by a tiny fraction of the populace and the prevalence of physical books – not to mention the continued dominance of their sales as a part of the publishing industry business model – the argument is a stretch of epic proportions.  The mere possibility of digital libraries means authoritarian control and the destruction of literature at the flick of a switch? Huh?
  3. And what exactly would happen to all of the physical books still around and being published in droves these days?  So in addition to a entity powerful enough to erase all copies of e-books we need to worry about a sudden urge on the part of the world to burn all existing physical books. Not real likely, no?
  4. Finally, most of the post actually has nothing to do with Kindle or e-readers so the whole column is a giant non sequitur and therefor see #1.

Godwin’s Law has perhaps jumped the shark – to combine slang and cliches – but I think Kaufman would have so very much better off had he at least understood the spirit of this internet rule. If you feel you have to use the Holocaust to make your point, please stop a moment and question whether what you have to say has anything to do with the actual historical event or ideas directly connected to it.  And err on the side of not bringing it up.

Of course, it is hard to take anything seriously from a site that makes money by not paying writers, stealing content, and posting porn-like pictures …

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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