eBook Inventor Passes Away, Remembered on USENET

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Michael Hart, who invented the eBook in 1971, passed away on Tuesday, September 6 at the age of 64. You’ve probably heard of Amazon’s Kindle, or Apple’s iPad. Those products got their idea from Hart’s idea, which he hoped would lead to free books, which would eventually lead to greater literacy. With greater literacy comes greater opportunity for a larger number of people, a long tradition that USENET newsgroup subscriber community have long promoted.

Hart was the founder of Project Gutenberg, which makes available thousands of free texts including classics such as Moby Dick and Jane Eyre, as well as the Declaration of Independence, released an obituary for Hart. Part of its obituary read:

“The invention of t eBooks was not simply a technology innovation or precursor to the modern information environment. A more correct understanding is that eBooks are an efficient and effective way of unlimited free distribution of literature. Access to eBooks can thus provide opportunity for increased literacy. Literacy, and the ideas contained in literature, creates opportunity.

Today, of course, products such as the Kindle and iPad charge plenty for the actual product, and then charge for most digitally delivered books as well. Sometimes, prices of digital books run parallel to their printed counterparts, or more in some cases. Hart digitized and distributed the Declaration of Independence in 1971 after he found a free printed copy of the document at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He was more interested in making literature and important text available free of commercial complications than turning the eBook into a cash cow. Today Project Gutenberg offers more than 36,000 free eBooks.

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