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Monday, February 20, 2012

Marking up that eBook

"Reading with a crowd."

The Authors Guild Bulletin reprints a "Short Cuts" column by James Meek that originally appeared in the London Review of Books, one that reveals a situation that I had never heard of, or imagined, before, and which I quite frankly find creepy.

While reading a tome he had downloaded from Amazon via the Kindle app on his iPad, Meek was so struck by the vivid veracity of one sentence that he employed a little gadget that allowed him to underline it, presumably so it could be easily found at a later time.

To his amazement, he found that someone had done that already.

It was a spanking new electronic book.  No one else had read it on his iPad.  When he downloaded the text, it was like buying a brandnew, unopened volume in the bookstore.

Yet when he touched the underscoring with his fingertip, a bubble appeared, with the disconcerting message, "Eight other people highlighted this part of the book."

How the devil did it happen?

It must have been like that moment in a crowded subway car, when one finds that the total stranger just behind you has the nerve to read your book or your newspaper (or, these days, you eReader) over your shoulder. 

Meek calmly observed, "I'd become one with the metareader, locked in a cloud computing mind-meld with eight people."

 I would have probably squeaked, "Eeek."

The function, it seems, can be turned off, but nonetheless it is out there -- what Meek calls "the ghost library, where poltergeistic fellow readers may not only be reading the same book as you at any moment but actually underlining the page of the book you are reading seconds before you get to it."

As I said, it's creepy.  Meek goes on to ruminate (very logically and sensibly) that the digital revolution means you can chuck out all the junk books, and keep "only the loved and the beautiful."  But, for me, the very thought that ghost readers are underlining sentences in the same ghost library is an excuse to stick to paper and ink. 

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