Once Upon A Wolvog

Stories from the front lines

Dangers of Digitization


The tools that governments and authorities use to control its people have come in many forms. For example, different types of popular media have been sponsored by governments in the past (literature, television, and movies) in order to control the types of knowledge that its population has access to. Hey there subliminal messages and propaganda!

Recently, while reading “Oryx and Crake”, I came across a new form of government control that relates directly to my own life and the world around me. Jimmy, the main character, is at one point given the job of deciding which physical copies of library books to burn and which ones to keep. The ones that are kept will then be digitized and stored in a digital system. At first, this situation made me sad because I thought that I would have just as much trouble as Jimmy would if I were given the same task. But then I thought – those digitized books are no safer than the ones who were burned. Just because they are ‘kept’ doesn’t mean they are safe from the controlling hands of the government.

Historically, governments have used ‘book burning’ as a form of control through censorship and a demonstration of power to its people. From the siege of Baghdad in the 13th century – where they didn’t technically burn the books but threw them into a river. There were so many books that the river actually turned black from the ink – to the Nazi book burnings during the second world war. These aimed to destroy important knowledge and the heritage of a specific culture. That’s pretty horrible, and the powers in question aren’t even being discreet about their nastiness. Often, book burnings were done publicly.

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Nazi book burning in Opernplatz, Berlin


Today, we’re living in a different time (or are we really? Debatable. Might I remind you that history tends to repeat itself). THE DIGITAL AGE! The population wouldn’t stand for something like a public book burning. With the ability to communicate with the world in seconds, if a large world power committed something like a public book burning, there would certainly be riots in the streets. A public book burning wouldn’t be very productive anyway, since there are so many books in print, and even digital copies of those books. Burning the book wouldn’t fully destroy it.

What a time to be alive! We can access almost any text about any subject in a matter of seconds! Making knowledge accessible to many more people all around the world. But with this new power, comes other ways of censorship, ones more closely related to George Orwell’s vision for the future, depicted in “1984”. With the digitization of texts and available knowledge, comes the ability to edit those texts any time – and the easier it becomes to censure what is accessible by the public, even destroying certain texts at the click of a button. That’s right folks, book burning no longer requires burning. By digitizing texts we think that we are making things more convenient and easier for ourselves. At the same time, we make it easier for those in power to control us.

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Winston, protagonist of 1984, operating a speakwrite at the Minidtry of Truth

To conclude, I’d like to ask my readers what your experience has been like with new forms of digitized information. EBooks, such as Kobo or Kindle as opposed to paper books? What is your position on schools that are implementing iPads and tech tools for students instead of physical textbooks? Do you remember when people used paper road maps instead of GPS systems like Google Maps? What about when people sent handwritten letters as opposed to e-mail or Facebook messages?

Sources: http://totallyhistory.com/nazi-book-burnings/ || https://writingasiplease.wordpress.com/2013/03/01/winston-smith/ || http://likesuccess.com/img3788171


3 thoughts on “Dangers of Digitization

  1. Great post! Too many interesting ideas here for me to comment on all of them, but… I am definitely very pro-physical books and even more so pro-library. I hadn’t even thought much about the ease with which those books could be modified, though it brings up a good point. I’m inclined to believe that if this did happen, the people would have the means to resist via privately sharing privately stored files. The internet has proven to be a rather effective method of spreading censored or secret information, because it is so difficult to control. This ties in with internet privacy, in that it seems like the less privacy we have the easier it is to censor things, because people are more easily controlled and threatened… no wonder these things go hand in hand in dystopias like 1984!


  2. Honestly, I think that physical books are the way to go. Although electronic ones can be more portable, it always seems much more personal to go curl up with a paper book that has that old smell to it. With electronics too though, it can be super distracting I find to read online because there’s just so much other stuff to do. It’s nice to be able to put electronics away and still get lost in another world and become so focused that you don’t notice when hours have passed.


  3. Really interesting topic. Although I understand how many people would prefer having physical books over digital books, I do see advantages of having digital books over physical ones, and do see myself preferring the digital ones. People can store and sort books and articles much more easily through a digital-library, and can contain much more than a physical library, without having to take an enormous amount of space. It is also a lot easier to spread around texts and ideas that are trying to be repressed by governments or organizations, and whether we see this as ethical or not, find out about certain information through hacking people’s systems. There are upsides and downsides to both forms, and each of them can be just as good as the other.

    PS: I’ve used both a road map and Google Maps, and trust me, GPS’s are helluva lot easier to use.


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