If the uproar over Dr. Seuss’ books doesn’t scare you, it should. Here’s why:
This whole mess is just a hi-tech book-burning. Yes, a la Nazi Germany. Yes, I went there.
Don’t believe me? Bear with me a sec: It wasn’t just that a school district wanted to ban the books. Yesterday was Ted Geisel’s birthday. It was also the first day of Read Across America, a school reading program deliberately scheduled on Dr. Seuss’ birthday to encourage kids to read.
This year the foundation that manages Dr. Seuss’ estate and all his books “celebrated” Dr. Seuss’ birthday by announcing they would no longer print the six offending books. And right now copies of the books are selling for thousands on eBay.
So what? They’re not burning anything.
There’s more to it than that:
Several years ago, iTunes and the band U2 arranged to release their latest album on iTunes for free.
But they didn’t just let people download it for free: Apple accessed every single iTunes account in the world and downloaded the album to every desktop, laptop, iPod, iPad and iPhone on the planet.
Apple product users were angry. Not just angry: Livid. FURIOUS. It was one of the worst PR disasters Apple ever had.
A few years earlier, Amazon discovered one of their sellers was selling two books without permission. They were two of George Orwell’s books, believe it or not, and his estate wanted Amazon to do something.
So Amazon pushed a button, and every digital copy of 1984 and Animal Farm vanished. Just like Apple, Amazon accessed every desktop, laptop, phone, or tablet with the book, along with every Kindle and Nook in the world, and poof: The book was gone.
I saw social media posts and talking heads in both cases saying “You’re complaining that they gave you a free album? Get over it” or “So what? It was a free download.”
If you’re thinking the same thing you still don’t get it.
The Internet and digitized content have transformed the world, for better or worse: From Wikileaks to publishing, music, books, video: You want to read an obscure book or listen to a hard-to-find album? You can, and in minutes.
But that flow of information goes both ways.
If you own an Apple device and you’ve bought digital movies, albums or books, have you ever noticed how the cover art suddenly changes every once in a while?
Doesn’t that worry you?
I don’t know how many digital copies of Dr. Seuss’s books there are. Probably there are a lot more physical copies.
Nevertheless, what if Dr. Seuss’s estate foundation tells Apple, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads and so on to get rid of all digitized copies?
Let’s say an activist group decides Lynyrd Skynyrd’s music is intolerable because they have pictures of the Confederate flag here and there and they sing about Southern culture? They don’t promote racism (quite the opposite, in fact—they called out racist Alabama Gov. George Wallace in “Sweet Home Alabama,” for instance).
Nevertheless, what if cancel culture gets some traction on eliminating Lynyrd Skynyrd and hundreds of millions of copies of their albums go poof?
What if cancel culture thinks Nazism is so bad it should just be wiped from history? Rise and Fall of the Third Reich; Mein Kampf; videos of Hitler’s speeches; documentaries about the Holocaust—poof.
Did you know Amazon won’t let any booksellers distribute Mein Kampf, with just a couple of vendors who have permission to sell it for academic purposes?
I’m not heartbroken over that; they aren’t trying to disappear the book entirely. But they could take a hell of a stab at it if they wanted. If you think no one with the means to do so could possibly want to start destroying literature just because they don’t like it, you’re really not paying attention. If even Dr. Seuss can be deemed so scary they’ve decided not to let anyone read his books anymore?
Or flip the issue ideologically: What if the US descends info a theocracy? What if some King James version purists decide all other Bible versions gotta go? Poof—along with the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, the Torah. I’m not Muslim or Jewish, but that doesn’t mean someone else gets to tell me what I can read.
If you think I’m crying wolf, ask yourself this: How many physical copies of your favorite albums, books, or movies to you have? How many paper prints of all your photos do you have?
We’ve all engaged in digitizing our personal libraries to one extent or another. I have about 45,000 songs, 300 some-odd movies and about 1,500 books in my personal library. And I have CDs, DVDs, LPs and hard copies of some of it—mostly with books. I think I have about 200 digital books and hard copies of the rest.
Photos as well: I have about 29,000 digital photos, but only maybe 500 printed photos.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve suddenly gotten a lot more interested in collecting physical photos, music, movies and music. And I already have all my digital content stored locally and inaccessible (although I’m going to do some research and make sure no one can get at it–I was blindsided by the U2 album release along with everyone else).
Do you want Amazon, Apple, and/or Google deciding what you can and can’t read, watch, or listen to? Much less the government?