Monday, February 13, 2012

Kindlegraph and Autopen

Evan Jacobs, the creator of Kindlegraph recently posted the following on a blog:

In my opinion, [it is] the connection between authors and readers that is the important thing and the signed book is simply a memento of that connection.

The move toward digital books doesn’t [mean] that these connections will no longer exist or no longer be important. On the contrary, I believe that authors and readers have even more opportunities to connect. I created Kindlegraph as an acknowledgment of the power of personal connections even while people become more anonymous because of technology

It is interesting to see his perspective, even though I still remain critical of Kindlegraph. For those who are uninformed, Kindlegraph is a means by which Kindle readers can request a personalized inscription for e-books. The concept is that an author will fill out a form and the software will generate a file that can be stored on the reader’s device. But what the reader actually receives is a message written in a generic cursive font. At the bottom is an copied image of the author’s signature. Copied signatures has long been considered been a very impersonal way to sign documents. This is why the autopen has been used by many people. The autopen is also impersonal, but it has the appearance of a real pen on paper.

The biggest problem with the autopen and with the Kindlegraph is that of the use of assistants to sign documents. If you make a request through Kindlegraph and sometime later you receive a Kindlegraph personalization on your Kindle you have no way of knowing whether the author sat down at this computer and typed something in or whether he is paying someone to handle all Kindlegraph requests. Worse, he may have automated the process, so that when a request comes in, the computer automatically enters a generic personalization into Kindlegraph.

When you look at it that way, it is possible for Kindlegraph to exist with no personal connection between the reader and the author at all. E-mail and blogs are also out because some people pay an assistant to respond to e-mails and blog comments. I believe the signed book is more than “simply a memento.” The signed book provides proof that the author touched the book. It proves it is real. In a world where we can copy everything by machine, autographed items remain proof that somewhere there is a real person running the machine. We need that more than ever.