or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


Potential, Interrupted

   December 2nd, 2008 Brian Herzog

Lighting McQueen car with bootWhile with my family for Thanksgiving, my nephew Jake showed me his latest toy car - Lightning McQueen, with a boot.

He loved it, because it was something new from his favorite movie. But the more I thought about this particular toy, the more I wondered about life in general.

Whose idea was it to sell kids a toy car that is designed not to roll? Where's the fun in that? Lots of kids' toys don't do anything, I know, and rely heavily on imagination to make them fun - but this defies even that. It seems like the gratification comes not from playing with the car, but just from owning it. Personally, I think this is a Very Wrong Message to send to kids, but that's not why I'm bringing this up.

It also occurred to me was that this booted toy car is very similar to downloadable media with DRM (because I have a tendency to relate every single aspect of my life back to libraries).

Patrons can get some limited joy out of them, but the built-in handicap of DRM is contrary to how (I think) downloadable media is supposed to work. DRM doesn't render downloadable audiobooks completely useless, but it does derail their potential and makes enjoying them unnecessarily difficult.

I asked Jake why he liked this car, since it didn't roll, but being three years old, he just said he wanted it because it was Lightning McQueen. I tried to get him to play with his brother and me as we zoomed cars that did roll back and forth to each other across the floor, but he just sat on a chair holding his new car and looking at it.

As an uncle, I felt bad that the limitations of Jake's new toy kept him from playing with us. But he didn't seem upset, and I figured he'd eventually realize that looking at a car that doesn't work isn't as much fun as playing with one that does.

As a librarian, I feel like every downloadable media option available to us has a boot on it, and people are afraid to get down on the floor and start rolling cars around. We're timidly exploring "free-wheeling" options, and I am hoping libraries and Jake quickly come to the same realization.

And I know I might talk about the wrongs of DRM too much, but it just bugs me.



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