Kindle books have revolutionised reading on tablets and computers but I would like to point out an area of potential great improvement with a relatively small and well protected investment:
Pointing is a way of communicating we have had since childhood and which originates much earlier in our evolution than even homo-sapiens. An important type of pointing is a citation, where an author points to a specific section (such as a page, in a printed book) to refer to a specific point. Although printed citations were slow to follow, since the reader would need to find the book cited and then the page number, this is actually more convenient than with digital books; A digital book does not have page numbers and a commercial book, with copy-protection, does not allow a citation to point inside it. This means that not only does the reader need to find the book as before, it also means that once the book is found the reader will have to trawl through the book to find the passage cited.
This constrains the dialog between books, one of the fundamental building blocks of intelligent, reasoned conversation. Not only can authors cite incorrectly, they can also ignore the context of any citation with impunity due to the effort to check.
This opens up opportunities for what has become called Fake News. An author can make an assertion and bolster the assertion with multiple citations which gives courage to the converted yet no access for analysis for the critical reader, not only for the first citation, but also for the citations cited in the source–the network of discourse becomes opaque and intellectual curiosity constrained.
The reasons for this deficit in intellectual capability comes from the copy protection of the books, which is an important aspect of their production and distribution so is not an issue in itself. The proposed solution offered here does not interfere with copy protection because it will be a solution built in to the Kindle reader, not by third party reading systems.
The proposed way it would work#
The core functionality would work like this:
The end user benefit for the author would be more credible writing, since citations can be accessed instantly and provide the full context (in a purchased book) and for the reader it would make it much more efficient to really get to grips with the text.
The societal benefit would be an increased standard of intellectual discourse.
The benefit for Amazon would be doing something concrete to fight Fake News and support clear and open academic and political dialogue.
In summary, I am offering this as an academic at the University of Southampton and a software developer who is working with the co-inventor of the Internet, Vint Cerf, on making electronic text ever more powerful.
We host an annual Future of Text Symposium http://futureoftext.org and this year we are putting together a special Symposium honouring our late friend and (practically speaking) inventor of personal computing, Doug Engelbart http://doug-50.info/index.html If this is agreed to then the 50th Anniversary of Doug Engelbart’s ‘mother of all demos’ event could be a great announcement day for this, since what he called high-resolution addressing was core to his philosophy.
We have discussed this approach with numerous libraries, including representatives of the Library of Congress with the response always being that this would be a capability of great social and intellectual value.