Online discrimination: Can I get rid of my nationality?

As much as I love the smell of books and its public representation of my character, most of the time in recent several years I’m bound to look for ebooks as I make living in countries where only small bookstores with selective collection of genres are available. However, I cannot always find the exact book or the right format online, which forces me to download it for free in pdf forms. But even that, it’s not commonly available because the books I look for often are not the bestseller-kind, but academic purposes.

I own 3 types of apple products which all make the useful of default iBooks app for reading various types of texts with certain length. My first place to search any type of books is the iBooks store, therefore. The thing is, however, I NEVER find ANY books I ever wanted to read. The reason being, I’m forced to use Korean iBooks store instead of other countries where there are overflowing number of interesting books. Why? Because I only have Korean credit card I can use for purchasing anything in app store. It makes me so frustrated. Yet, it’s the common policy of Apple to only allow the user to use contents by the nationality of their credit cards even in general app store and iMusic(it was only very recently that iMusic became available in Korean app store). I could go to Amazon to download ebooks but I only have 3 useless devices that uses “epub” format (it’s the format for texts used in Apple devices) not “mobi” used in Amazon Kindle. It means I need to download additional software on my computer to read ebooks bought from Amazon.

I don’t mean to just complain about the complexity, though. My point of writing this is to complain about losing choices or being put in a relatively disadvantageous position based on my nationality on the global web. My nationality that I didn’t choose restrains me from accessing the same information others easily get. My nationality forces me to install extra sets of softwares for buying the same items on the same website because my Korean VISA requires extra steps for verifications(though, I blame this more on culture rather than nationality for Korean web security often just outsource from external softwares or plugins which makes users more responsible for unfortunate security-related events).

It may sound like a whining of one person living with a relative privilege in a rich country. And it is. As I don’t get shot because of my nationality and I don’t lose places to live because of my nationality. So, yes it is kind of horrible to argue over global web condition as of while some people are struggling. It isn’t, however, just a waste of time to raise questions on the relative anarchy situation on the web. What governs the web? How harmonised and compatible are each web project? These problems are not that obvious as we mostly solve this on product or company level. But let’s say there are a thousand types of ebook format. Every website sells different formats. Then, I don’t have a choice but to install a thousand or less software to read them depending on the availability of the particular book on the website I prefer to use. Then, the problem may not just be up to the company. Even smart consumer movement won’t solve this buffet of a thousand formats. It’s an irony; There are a thousand of formats to choose from but I don’t actually get to choose it. Because it’s the website or company who chooses the format to channel their product through and I don’t have other choices but to use the website if that’s the only place that has what I want. Today, I found the book I want on US iBooks store. I was glad I could access it until I found out it transferred me to Korea iBooks store when I wanted to pay. Next, I looked up on Amazon but I didn’t feel like downloading kindle software. So I went to ebook website which the publisher led me to. I finally paid with my credit card when I made it sure that it runs on mac with no problem. Then I found out the format is different and I needed adobe digital edition installed. This post shows how furious I was by this process and outcome.

Some may say having more and more choices for using the online contents is important. Yes, the being able to have choices is the core idea of freedom. But if those choices are filtered by intermediate suppliers or nationality, it’s not really called freedom. It’s just eating what I have from the fridge. It’s availability, not freedom.


Photograph: Matt Helbig

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An anthropology novice with passion for small things. A development worker in a world of imponderabilia.

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