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.
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.
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?