The Shirking of Responsibility

Making the blog rounds in the not-too-distant past was commentary about how the new Nook with GlowLight has an easily damaged screen. The posts and comments came about as a result of an article that appeared at Gizmodo, “You Really Don’t Want to Drop the New Nook Simple Touch.” The article author relates what happened when he accidentally dropped his remote control onto the unprotected screen of the Nook.

A lot of bloggers immediately jumped all over the Nook. I understand that screen fragility can be a problem. Most of us know that we cannot drop our ereaders into a bathtub filled with water and expect the device to continue working; the devices aren’t waterproof. Similarly, most of us know that we cannot give our ereaders to a 6-month-old baby to play with; the devices aren’t childproof.

Yet many of these same people think the Nook should have been made car-key and remote-control proof. Why? We all know that the chance of being shot in America is high. Should the devices therefore be made bulletproof? The likelihood of carrying the device outside during a rainstorm is probably higher than the likelihood of dropping a remote control on the device, so shouldn’t the device be made waterproof?

It seems to me that we know that these devices are delicate before we buy them. Consequently, many of us buy protective covers and make an effort to keep the screen protected. It is also one of the sale pitches made when the sellers try to get you to buy extended warranty protection that protects against even dropping car keys on an unprotected screen.

But all of this is really beside the point, which is self-responsibility. In recent years, I’ve noted an increase in finger-pointing: whatever is wrong is wrong because it is someone else’s fault. The finger-pointer rarely points to him- or herself while claiming to be part of the problem. Need we look any further than the American Congress? Everything is President Obama’s fault, nothing is the fault of congressional partisanship.

Even in the world of ebooks the lack of personal responsibility is evident. Consider how many ebookers think there is nothing wrong with pirating an ebook simply because it can be done or because the price is too high or because the edition the ebooker wants isn’t yet available. The justifications are myriad but what is really important is that the moral code of responsibility for one’s actions has deteriorated in the Internet age.

The Internet has made it easy for people to find like-minded netizens who encourage antisocial behavior and the finger-pointing that occurs. Even if a person takes steps to assuage some critics, there are always new critics who are not satisfied. Because the Internet has made it easy to shout one’s complaints to a worldwide audience, we have become a society of complainers rather than of solvers.

I’ve noted an additional phenomenon of the Internet age that acts as support for the lack of self-responsibility; that is, the Internet supports and encourages anonymity, which tends to drown out solutions and trumpet problems or claimed problems. In my youth, which I admit was a very long time ago, if I had a complaint, I had to make it in person or in writing with my identity clearly revealed. Everyone ignored anonymous letters and telephone calls. Contrast that with today. Anonymous is found everywhere.

Reputations are readily sullied today by anonymous rantings. As I noted in The Uneducated Reader, people give credence to anonymous book reviews, even to ones where the reviewer clearly has not read the book. As a result of the anonymous phenomenon that the Internet encourages, people believe they can say and do anything without the need to take responsibility for what they say and do.

Consequently, products that work well are subject to atypical tests and downgraded because they fail the atypical test. How many Kindles, I wonder, could withstand concrete blocks being dropped on them from a height of 5 feet or could survive being washed by itself in a washing machine (normal cycle) and then run through the dryer for an hour at high heat? Isn’t that how you would clean a dirty ereader?

Look at what people display on social media like Facebook about themselves. Do I really care that Jane Doe got rip-roaring drunk last night? In olden days, the world didn’t know about it; today, there is not a place in the world that doesn’t.

This is not only a problem of a lack of self-responsibility, it is also a problem of lack of self-esteem. The two seem to go hand-in-hand — the more a person lacks self-esteem, the more irresponsible they seem to be and the more they are inclined to finger point. The more they finger point, the more they are willing to see themselves as outside the problem and not part of the problem.

Am I the only one who has noticed this?

image by Peter Kaminski


  1. Nate Hoffelder8 August, 2012

    The Nook Glow isn’t a good example of shirking personal responsibility. It truly is more fragile than a regular E-ink screen or an LCD screen. I performed similar drop tests on my Nook Glow and the various tablets and ereaders I had at the time. The only one that was damaged was the Nook Glow:

    And I don’t know about you, but I regard not buying the Nook Glow to be the responsible action. It acknowledges the issues and deals with them in a positive manner.

    1. fbr8 August, 2012

      I read the orginal article and went ahead and bought a Nook Glow. I take it out almost everyday and have had no problems.

  2. Mike Cane8 August, 2012

    >>>Look at what people display on social media like Facebook about themselves. Do I really care that Jane Doe got rip-roaring drunk last night?

    Well who the hell is breaking into your house, grabbing you by your head, going to Facebook, and rubbing your eyes against the screen to force you to read Jane Doe’s update?

    In “olden days,” there was also such a thing as Mind Your Own Goddam Business.

  3. Rashkae8 August, 2012

    /me carefully steps off your lawn with slow and deliberate movement.

  4. kalel6668 August, 2012

    “We all know that the chance of being shot in America is high”

    We who? I certainly don’t know that, nor do most Americans, I suspect.

  5. Rebecca Allen8 August, 2012

    “We all know that the chance of being shot in America is high.” On the order of 1:2000, assuming all gunshot wounds are included (accidental, self-inflicted, non-fatal, blah blah bleeping blah). I don’t think of that as something I need to worry about. Also, I question your idiomatic choice (chance … is high), which is unusual; you’re usually really, really careful.

    “The likelihood of carrying the device outside during a rainstorm is probably higher than the likelihood of dropping a remote control on the device, so shouldn’t the device be made waterproof?”

    I never, ever, ever take my kindle out in the rain. I carry stacks of electronics including tablets, phones, e-readers, remote controls around the house (usually cleaning up before going to bed and distributing things to their chargers/standard storage location) every single day. Dropping a remote on an e-reader is something that I’m likely to do — more likely than not doing it — in any given year. If that was going to break the device, I’d want to know about it so I could take precautions. Like not buying the device.

    This is why reviews that explain how the object was used are so useful. Truly. The maker and the population at large cannot be expected to predict how someone will use a product; the best we can do is share our experience and hope it is useful.

    @Rashkae: Funny, that’s _exactly_ the idiom I used to describe Rich to a friend of mine today. 🙂

  6. Tyler8 August, 2012

    I returned my Nook Glowlight not because of how delicate the screen was but because I think the tech they used to make the screen is not that great. Besides the bar at the top, there was an unevenness to the light the farther you went down the screen. In these days, if I am paying for a tech in a product, it should produce satisfactory results. I didn’t think this one did for me.

  7. digital reader fan8 August, 2012

    As with fbr,
    I too read the orginal article and went ahead and bought a Nook Glow. I take it out almost everyday and have had no problems.

  8. The Rodent8 August, 2012

    > Am I the only one who has noticed this?

    You’re kidding right? Personal responsibility has been on the wane — quite seriously — for as long as I’ve been around to notice, and I’m not a spring chicken. It’s rampant, and has been, for a long time. So, obviously, it will be visible when people talk about products, like e-readers. Don’t dry your Nook in the microwave either. 🙂

  9. Jon Jermey8 August, 2012

    When I buy something electronic, it’s with the intention of using it. That means carrying it around, plugging and unplugging it, picking it up, putting it down, eating over it, and occasionally being normally clumsy. I don’t expect it to be invulnerable, or to last forever, but if it can’t stand normal use, it’s no good to me. If a product can’t tolerate the conditions in which it is meant to be used, it’s not fit for sale.

  10. Name (required)9 August, 2012

    The blog post called: “You Really Don’t Want to Drop the New Nook Simple Touch” points out a new and worrying vulnerability.
    If you scratch the screen of a front-lit device, even the tiniest scratch might become a bright source of light. And that is quite legitimate complaint.

    Some people tend to use their e-ink readers a lot. Carry them everywhere. I know I do. And such heavily used e-ink reader gets battered and the screen gets scratched a tiny bit here, a little bit more there. You do not normally notice such tiny imperfections on the screen, because it has nice matte surface and you focus on the text and content of the book anyway. But every tiny scratch on a screen of a lit front-lit device stands out, because the upper layer of the screen is a light conductor, used to distribute the light evenly across the entice screen surface.

    Nobody is complaining that the reader gets scratched when dropped into a “Will It Blend?” (TM) Blendtec blender, or fried when put into a microwave for 10 minutes at a full blast. they are just voicing legitimate concern about the vulnerability of the light-conducting layer.

  11. Thomas9 August, 2012

    I don’t think that warning people that the screen is much more fragile than a normal screen constitutes “shirking of responsibility”. It’s valid information for anyone considering buying the device.

  12. DavidW9 August, 2012

    Since when is Nate and the Gizmodo staff anonymous?? The discussion of anonymity on the web is a nonsequitur. Reporting on the sensitivity on the screen is acting IN RESPONSIBILITY NOT SHIRKING IT. Seriously what were you thinking!?

    I think that you meant to talk about the anonymous reviews on the bn review portion of the glow product page. If that’s the case then talk about that not Gizmodo. If you mean to say that you suspect that the negative reviews are really from kindle fanboys perhaps, but perhaps also many are earnest, honest people disappointed with the reader. Being anonymous does not automatically make you a troll.

  13. Xyzzy10 August, 2012

    I agree with all of the other comments… It’s not shirking responsibility to warn people if a device is *unusually* fragile, so that they can opt to not spend their hard-earned money on it if they’re dyspraxic or careless/, or get their hands on a case that’s less likely to release the Nook from its holding clips if dropped.

    It really sounds like you’ve fallen into the generational trap of viewing humanity/society from the past with rose-colored glasses — every generation, to one degree or another, views the next one as “worse” in one way or another. Either that, or you’re airing political viewpoints on a tech blog (depending on whether your rant is connected to similar feelings about our government), which wouldn’t seem right. (…or you’re trolling, in which case you obviously got the reaction from people you wanted.)

    As for anonymity — ignoring that you’re confusing “anonymous” with “pseudonymous” — your premise has things backwards. I don’t know if you’re American, but anonymity is enshrined into the Constitution it was recognized as crucial for the public to air ideas, thoughts, facts and opinions without fear of reprisal. Ben Franklin himself published some of his most important social commentaries anonymously, countless authors have published under pseudonyms to avoid reviewer bias, and newspapers have always published letters to the editor without verifying ID in large part for that reason. Anonymity has also been a core part of the Internet since its inception; in fact, when I first logged on about 20 years ago, it was extremely rare to see anyone’s real names unless it was in private after establishing a friendship in public.

    In 2003, South Korea required that all political sites with over 300k users only allow users to post under their real names in order to reduce malicious behavior; after a prominent suicide was blamed on trolls, they tightened the noose in 2007 to require real names on any site with over 100k users. A governmental study on the effectiveness of their policy, however, showed that it only reduced the incidence of “unwanted” comments by 0.9%. The problems taking place on Facebook with bullying, and even near-trolling posts like your own effectively declaring only certain elites should have freedom of speech demonstrate clearly that real names don’t truly help, as the people making those posts/comments typically believe they’re in the right.

    As another post and other comments pointed out in the last rant you posted, virtually nobody has any problem distinguishing between useful reviews and worthless ones — especially if we read that the person didn’t read the book. As the book you were freaking out about was being wrongly billed as a romance, somebody warning other romance-lovers that it was a tragedy and didn’t contain real “romance” elements kind of makes sense… I have no idea where you’re getting the idea that reputations are being “ruined” because people are warning calmly that a book has essentially been miscategorized.

    Like I said in my comment on your other post: if you crave the olden days, you’re welcome to only submit things under your real name and to only read reviews written by professionals. The rest of us aren’t yearning for those days.


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