Mitochondrial Vertigo

May 1, 2010

Kindle vs. iPad and What we are allowed to Read

 

The tiny little ripple in the great commercial body that is the Macmillan/AAAARG.org dispute, that forced the academic text file sharing site AAAARG.org to host all its files on external links, dispersing them into the aethersphere, is likely related to the headlong clash between Kindle and iPad, the two great Beta vs. VHS mediums for the future of books – Is anyone going to read anymore?!, people worry. Not only are people going to read, and what they read ON what, for how much $ are dynamic and powerful questions that will shape the habitus of future generations. Sub Specie Aeterni agrees that this Kindle v. iPad and Macmillan v. AAAArg.org business is something pay attention to. And I post here my comment at the end because writing it is what lead to me writing this post:

I do think that it is worth taking this seriously – I wonder who is doing so other than those immediately involved with AAAARG.org. This is the very “stuff” of access and distribution, the kind of stuff that shapes the rivers of money and thought, the kind of stuff that changes things in unpredictable and longterm ways (not always bad).

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I do have a real problem with the commercialization of academic thought (the phrase almost makes me laugh, as academic thought is so highly commercialized it isn’t even funny). It’s not that thinking from the academy should be some kind of independent, disinterested pursuit, but rather that the economic structures that drive tuition payments, and bloat universities and colleges, especially in America, are so out of joint in terms of values, its a bloody catastrophe. That folks, no doubt because they have bought hook line and sinker into the myth of personal embetterment and social duty, have mortgaged their futures to mountains of debt and servitude is something akin to the proportions that preceded the latest financial crisis. That the class of these folks, people who want to read about stuff like “the difference between the ontological and the ontic” or “interpellation” – hearing that call, have to be further corralled and squeezed is pretty much ridiculous.

We know what the point is. Just like how fantastic medical procedures and medicines would never be invented if it were not for the promise of all sorts of financial windfalls and exploitations waiting on the other end, so too, so many marvelous technological means of communicating and publishing – not to mention so many fantastic theories being written, would never come about if there were not the pot of gold at the end of that rainbow. But can’t we say that there is something else to writing, reading and education than these kinds of games of more, faster, better and $$$?

The minds of the future lie within the Kindle v iPad wars, the habits of our thinking, our cups of coffee, and our licking of the page turning. The nice thing about technology, it always does MORE, it lets not only the cat, but its fleas and its dreams out of the bag. As Macmillan attacks file sharing in order to secure as much leverage as it can in its battle with Kindle and Amazon, the frayed hem edge of our complexity is showing. We must also reflect upon the fact that “We demand more content, faster (cheaper)!” is what is behind many of our complaints when file-sharing is restricted, a demand worth inspecting.

apple, iPad, Kindle, Amazon, device

April 24, 2010

Macmillan and Mark Taylor to take down AAAARG.org?

Putting the Documents Back in the Castle?

Sub Specie Aeterni reported that the academic freedom, file sharing website AAAARG.org was taken down under the threat of legal action by a Mark Taylor. AAAARG.org is basically the Napster of published intellectual essays and books. Because there is no internet resource for this story we wondered for a time if professor of religion Mark C. Taylor had become the Lars Ulrich of academic thought. It turns out NOT to be the case. Instead, it seems safe to conclude that it was anti-piracy officer Mark Taylor, come to Macmillan publishing from the music industry. He is looking to apply the lessons learned in music publishing and piracy to books and essays an in the interest of this model it was apparently he who threatened the action. You can hear him speak on the general issue at the May 5th 2010 UCL Publisher’s Seminar (for a nominal non-member fee of £92.00):

Mark Taylor, newly arrived at Macmillan from the music business, will explore how the music industry’s experience of piracy could inform publishing’s anti-piracy strategies.

• What parallels are there between the music and publishing

worlds? What could publishing avoid and what should it adopt from the music industry’s example?

• What pointers are there within publishing to future

AAAARG.org has been the lone positive whole-text source for texts that allows intellectual work outside of the highly commercialized restrictions of JSTOR and other academic monopolies of intellectual creations. Unlike the music industry, many if not most of these intellectual products are produced through State – that is the public’s – non-profit funding. UC Davis is not Capitol Records. I am not prepared to argue against the absolute unethical nature of copyrighting and gatekeeping academic intellectual products and resources, but the manner in which academic institutions have become primarily recursively organized text producing (and text consumer) factories is decidedly problematic on a number of ethical levels, many of which call into the question the substance of those products themselves, and thus ultimately the service that colleges and universities offers to our society.

This threatened legal attack on AAAARG.org is vastly under-reported among the electronic para-academic types who likely relied on its freedoms, and deserves at the very least our notice. Though I did not personally use the service, its existence was applauded by many whose work was no doubt of value. Macmillan seems to be quite busy organizing its electronic publishing assets, perhaps much of this having sometime to do with its recent partnership with Apple’s iPad. Just think about it. One day you can be paying for my essays in order to have the luxury of reading them on the subway on a device and services you have purchased from Apple. Who said academia isn’t looking up?

Update: Adrian over at Immanence in comments reports that the site is functioning as of now, without hint of a dust up. Curious.

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