Amazon Kindle and the Tyranny of the Majority

Marketing genius Seth Godin has some comments about the Amazon Kindle, an electronic book reader, in a recent entry on his blog. While many are quite reasonable, I’m a bit shocked by his recommendations for “improving the act of reading a book.” Mr. Godin suggests “social networking” be an integral part of the reading experience, allowing readers’ comments to be shared among Kindle users, and favorite sections to be “voted up.” In my mind, this is the antithesis of the intent of published books, and exemplifies one of the prime dangers of social networking: the tyranny of the majority.

Social networking advocates have trumpeted one of the core benefits of the technology as giving every person a voice. (Note that “every person” is everyone who can afford a shiny new Mac or PC, broadband internet services, has some degree of tech-savvy and disposable time and the inclination to surf the social networking scene). A book however is the opposite. It is one person’s thoughts and prose on a topic or story, and reading is an act of intimacy between author and reader. You pay for the privilege of an unadulterated dose of the author, not the screaming masses providing pithy comments and flashing neon signs pointing to their favorite passage.

Social networking is like a NASCAR race (or football game for our international audience) where thousands shout everything from inanities to waxing philosophic. You have no say as to whether you are within earshot of a sublimely eloquent individual, or the drunk shouting expletives while spilling pilsner on your shoes. A book however is like a poetry reading, where you are alone with the poet’s words and your own thoughts. Imagine the drunken hooligan abruptly standing and loudly adding his “insights” at a poetry reading, to the approval and encouragement of the rest of the audience. Imagine Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech punctuated by some moron patched into the sound system yelling “GO TEAM!”

Both social media and traditional books have their places (as do NASCAR and poetry readings), and despite the trend to view social media as an answer to problems we didn’t even know we had, I’ll keep my books free from the scholia of the masses, thank you very much!

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Comments

  1. Thanks for an intelligent response to the drumbeat of “social this” and “social that.” I own a Kindle and I love that all it does is display books. Amazon already HAS a social network feature for every title: there are reviews, discussions, discussions on the reviews, and many other applications built atop that framework. All that is separate from the item itself. I don’t want to read inline comments in a Kindle book any more than I want to read notes scribbled in my library books by smartass patrons who came before me.

    (Disclaimer: I work for Amazon, though not in the community department. This comment does not represent Amazon’s corporate opinion.)

  2. Jason,

    Thanks for your comment. While social networking has some wonderful applications, at the end of the day not all opinions are equal. I read books for exposure to great thinkers, and I beleive books have a certain cachet. Anyone with a web browser can provide their version of pithy commentary, but writing a book has barriers to entry that, in my mind, expose you to a higher level of thought (I should hope so anyway, I wrote one).

    I’m in your camp and hope amazon keeps the Kindle free of “social” drivel.

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