Book Review: Forged in War: How a Century of War Created Today’s Information Society by R. David Lankes

Cover of the book Forged in War: How a Century of War Created Today’s Information Society by R. David Lankes
Forged in War: How a Century of War Created Today’s Information Society
by R. David Lankes
Rowman & Littlefield, 2021

This review was first published by Booklist on May 1, 2021.

Modern knowledge infrastructure is a fractured complex of filter bubbles, tracking our every move across platforms, websites, and apps, gathering our personal data to sell to the highest bidders. To understand how this came to be, Lankes studied the origins of knowledge systems from the time of the world wars through the twentieth century. Most of our communication systems and technology were designed to be weaponized in response to wartime threats. Propaganda, manipulation, and ubiquitous surveillance are built in as data analysis is optimized for the cold calculations of war. These tools weren’t intended for commerce or entertainment, and certainly not to protect the privacy of users. But these are precisely the features businesses and designers use to capture attention and increase profits. Lankes argues for more humanist values to redesign our knowledge infrastructure: policies and systems that prioritize privacy and give users control of personal data, intellectual property rights that better serve the common good, and nuanced data analysis instead of algorithmic dataism. Lankes’ historical perspective is compelling and his arguments convincing.

Thoughts on the True Nature of Ebooks

Stuart Kelly at The Guardian has an interesting take on the potential new reality of ebooks:

Why ebooks are a different genre from print (posted March 26, 2013)

I’ve long been advocating for the multimedia potential of ebooks but I hadn’t really thought about the data-gathering and non-private nature of the medium before.

On a deeper level, I’d like to see more longitudinal studies done on information comprehension and retention when reading ebooks, as well as direct neurological mapping of ebook reading vs. print. I’m curious to know how our pre- and sub-conscious minds deal with the physical differences in the delivery mechanisms.
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Again with the Ebooks & Online Library Services & Patron Privacy

Defining a Less Polarizing Position

I was talking to my wife about my concerns over patron privacy and library ebook lending for Kindles, and she presented me with an argument that pretty well demolished my entire principled stance on this issue:

Ebook services for libraries don’t carry any really controversial or potentially dangerous stuff anyway. Ereaders are for fluff – all the data shows that pretty much no one uses them for serious reading or scholarship. There’s no real danger in exposing ebook lending records because there’s nothing there to get patrons in trouble in the first place.
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Ebook Lending for Kindles & Patron Privacy

Back in November, I wrote about some serious concerns I have regarding library-based social sharing platforms and patron privacy. More recently, I find myself harboring similar concerns about ebook lending for Kindles.

I’ve never actually checked out an ebook from my library. So the other week, when I was asked to help a patron check out an ebook for her Kindle, I was taken aback when we reached the step where she was required to sign in to Amazon using her personal Amazon ID. This step raises an important question:

What happens to the record of this transaction in Amazon’s database?
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Library-Based Social Book Apps: A Question of Ethics

My library has been researching the SirsiDynix® Social Library app for Facebook. While there appears to be incredible potential in such social media-based library apps (friend recommendations, reviews, wish-lists, in-platform catalog interactions), for me it raises some serious concerns about patron data and privacy.

And it’s not just my innate antipathy to the thought of sharing any of our patron information with Facebook – an organization that sets the standard of notoriety for selling users’ personal info to any advertiser that wants it…
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