21st Century Burning

Curator's Note

The ALA describes Banned Book Week (BBW) as a celebration of our freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Often, a symbolic move by those who can not ban a book or keep people from reading one is to burn it - in mass quantities. Throughout history, the symbolism of burning has taken on many forms. The first documented burn of protest took place in 213 BCE, as a Google search will illustrate after one sifts through to find the valid information. Other Google results lead the same search to Burning Man, where a burn is symbolic in many different ways to many different people. Given this variation in meaning to burn, along with the various ways in which media is delivered, we are now considering what 21st Century Burning (and banning) will look like in our connected world.

I asked my Basic Interactive Production class to consider the following questions for extra credit:

  1. How will books and media be banned in the 21st Century?
  2. How would Net Neutrality (or lack thereof) contribute to 21st Century Banning or even Burning?
  3. What will 21st Century Book Banning and Burning look like?

I gave them 24 hours to complete the task. Not surprisingly, I received 4 entries out of 24 students. However, those four were powerful statements. Honest answers to the questions above that are represented in the video for this entry, “21st Century Burning.”

Interestingly, 3 out of 4 of the student reflections were directly related to the law or authority. Michael D. Taft wondered if a future Amazon.gov would ban a search. Thomas Moore’s concern was propaganda and possible “sign says…” sightings along a roadside near you. Brittney Ibold made a strong, yet simple statement, “They will find you…”

The final student submission, by Brandon Crouch, illustrated how many feel the direction books and media are heading – all digital. In an era of media, digital or otherwise, existing together in a complex cloud of connectivity will our attitudes and methods of banning and burning change as well?

We still have the option to learn or burn in our country. It's your choice. We still have our libraries to provide us guidance and to locate valid information. Then you can burn what you find for what ever meaning burning is for you.


As we move toward a more digital world, where books come on chips instead of in dust covers and downloads become as popular as browsing bookshops, the forms of censorship will be adapted to fit this new world. Where once there were lists of banned books, there will be programs that electronically ban books. Instead of burning, perhaps there will be computer viruses meant to search and destroy any digital copy deemed "offensive". Bootleg copies of banned material will be passed around on discs or jump drives and any such material will be confiscated if found.

The idea of censorship, of banning, does get a bit more scary when you step into the digital world, when it becomes easier to block certain code or delete files, to trace what someone is reading and keep tabs on where people have been. What measures might governments - or private groups - take to keep what they deem "offensive" out of the public's hands? It isn't a pleasant thought.

The important thing is that people aren't going to stop reading. They aren't going to stop burning or banning, either, but they won't stop reading, whatever form the books may take.

1.  In the 21st century where technology is thriving, the world governance of the United Nations will see technology as power. Through this setting these world elites will seek to regulate and restrict use of certain technologies. In essence technology is the 21st century's version of books and writing which have been burned in prior centuries.

2. I see this question posing to how the government seeks to censor the internet and control the usage of it. This will be a way to censor most types of media as the computer and its usage of the internet has increased the capablities of the user to view all types of mediums.

3. To me 21st media burning will look like viruses and increased censorship. Maybe even to accomplish this goal the ones who seek to see it out will increase the police state and enact computer confiscations.

  1. How will books and media be banned in the 21st Century?
  2. How would Net Neutrality (or lack thereof) contribute to 21st Century Banning or even Burning?
  3. What will 21st Century Book Banning and Burning look like?


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