Up to a few days ago I hadn’t heard of Clean Reader, then someone I know retweeted the following from John Scalzi
Asked for my thoughts on Clean Reader. They are: you bought the book, do what you want, but if you use the app, it’s not the book I wrote. [LINK]
My first thought was – that’s just dumb. Since then I’ve read a few more articles and blogs on the subject with more… colorful responses[LINK] and [LINK] (you have been warned) and I have come to the conclusion that Clean Reader isn’t dumb, it is dangerous.
This censorship of swearing is to me the thin end of the wedge. In itself if someone told me that they had read a book that had been subject to Clean Reader, what I would take from that is that they have actually read the book at all. In much the same way that if you read a book originally written in another language that has been translated into yours, then you are reading a version not the original. With a formal translation the objective will be get the most accurate conversion possible. While Clean Read is designed to be inaccurate. So in itself Clean Read doesn’t seem that big a deal; it is a clumsily and inferior version of the original.
But the more I think, the more I see things I don’t like and that might provide unwelcome precedent. To start with by using such a system you are effectively attributing words to an author that they didn’t actually write, something most us would react badly to. Secondly what next? This is just replacing individual words but assuming it doesn’t exist already, then if given the opportunity could we see programs that are even more invasive? One that edits away the subject of your preferred prejudiced, like people of colour?
It is worth noting that while Clean Reader is the product of an American Christian couple, this tendency isn’t unique to them. They was some argument a year or two ago about the removal of the word – and I apologize for its use – nigger in the works of Mark Twain. To put it mildly, it’s not a nice word but for better or worse, it is part of language and mindset of the time. If it is okay to change individual words in Twain’s work then is it for example okay to rewrite Jane Austin various heroines, so that they go out and make their own fortune rather than wait around for a man?
It speaks of a bland or cowardly mindset that decides to take out anything that doesn’t fit into its existing worldview. One that doesn’t want to be challenged and while Scalzi is right, you can do are you want, I can’t help feeling that there is a better solution:
Don’t read the book.