Understanding Microsoft

Part 20. Book Burning

Back in the days when armies actually conquered on the ground instead of with missiles and bombs, the ultimate insult to a nation was to burn some repository of knowledge. Usually that meant a temple, or in the case of Alexandria, Egypt, it meant the national library. There was nothing more devastating to a culture than to deprive it of its historical records, its documents, and its educational tools.

In medieval Europe, it was also a common sight to have books or other cultural and educational implements burned in public, particularly if their contents were a challenge to a ruling elite. Often a church leader would find that a particular Bible translation or pamphlet exposed with devastating clarity some falsehood or myth that had kept people in darkness, so it was necessary to confiscate certain books and burn them. Sometimes the publisher was thrown into the fire made with his own books!

Censorship has thus had a long and violent history, and has originated both with foreign powers and with domestic institutions. Censorship has been given a bad name because it implies a closed mind and a narrow agenda of keeping people in the dark for the sake of power and monetary gain. Thus it is that most people are on the lookout for any signs of book-burners or censors and will quickly react to prevent any such skullduggery.

However, a clever and subtle new form of censorship has begun to take place, one that insidiously works its way into the fabric of society by claiming to be enlightenment!! That censorship is done by making the computer screen so cute, so appealing, so all-encompassing, that the *desire* for book reading begins to wane. That way, somebody who controls what is seen on the computer screen can effectively censor any undesireable material -- any material that conflicts with the manipulator's own agenda. Instead of having to burn books directly (and raise a lot of eyebrows in the process), the censor simply distracts attention from books so thoroughly that he can redefine society and culture as completely as if those books had gone up in smoke.

The censorship capabilities of Microsoft are growing daily. By investing one billion dollars each in ComCast, TCI, and other cable television networks; by buying WebTV and cutting deals with NBC; by developing satellite networks and monopolizing PC operating systems: these are the silent fires being lit under every library, every bookstore, every school in the world. As educators run full-tilt to computerize their schools in some vain attempt to keep from "falling behind," they are instead pouring gasoline on the flames of the book-burners. Schools will never view the computer screen as merely an alternative window to view the text of a book, because the censors will never allow such simplification to occur. Not only is it not in the cultural interests of the Microsoft agenda, but quite simply, there's no money in it.

Prepare then for a generation of cartoon-watchers instead of readers. The book burners at Microsoft will stop at nothing to abolish the printed page.

Most recent revision: January 10, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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