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  •                                  NETFUTURE
    
                        Technology and Human Responsibility
    
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    Issue #90      A Publication of The Nature Institute          May 14, 1999
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                Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (stevet@netfuture.org)
    
                         On the Web: http://netfuture.org
         You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes.
    
    NETFUTURE is a reader-supported publication.
    
    
    CONTENTS
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    Why I Never Buy Books from Amazon.com (Stephen L. Talbott)
       What are cheap prices the prices of?
    
    DEPARTMENTS
    
    Correspondence
       Mistaking the Part for the Whole (David Isenberg)
       NETFUTURE's Hubris in Defining `Human' (Graham Mainwaring)
       Obscure Holism (Joshua Yeidel)
       Leboyer on Birth without Violence (Brad McCormick)
       Lessons about Doing Distance Education Well (John McHugh)
       A Worthwhile Distance Education Course (Phil Walsh)
       Who is a Drop-out? (Graham Mainwaring)
       A Failure of the Medium or a Failure of Teachers? (Bruce A. Metcalf)
    
    About this newsletter
    
    
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                      WHY I NEVER BUY BOOKS FROM AMAZON.COM
    
                                Stephen L. Talbott
                              (stevet@netfuture.org)
    
    The popularity of web auction sites has gotten me thinking about the
    ever-increasing number of collectors' markets out there -- from baseball
    cards to old 45-rpm record jackets, from antique furniture to Pez
    dispensers, from stamps to beer bottles, from coins to teddy bears.
    
    One feature distinguishing a collectors' market from most other markets is
    that it's primarily a kind of futures market:  people tend to buy things
    based on anticipated future monetary value rather than any sense of
    general usefulness or intrinsic worth.  That is, they bet on how much
    others will be willing to pay for an item at some later time.
    
    Such a market for a particular type of product can emerge overnight for no
    other reason than that people begin to conceive it and then start bidding
    up each other's expectations.  I suppose you could say it is a market in
    expectations.  It becomes one of those many contemporary domains in which
    a kind of numbers game replaces any qualitative sense of value.  The
    context in which value is assessed extends scarcely further than my guess
    about how others will assess the value in the future.  Of course, if these
    others are like me -- if they are only putting a number on their
    expectations regarding what number others will put on their expectations
    regarding what number others... -- then no reckoning of actual value need
    ever contaminate the picture.
    
    There is, needless to say, something arbitrary and unrooted, something
    conducive to bubble economics -- okay, something like the current stock
    market -- in this game of mutually induced levitation.  And all that, it
    seems to me, is a useful back