NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Not that he asked, but here's my advice to Jeff Bezos now that he owns The Washington Post: Reconnect with a fellow named Jason Merkoski.
Bezos will remember the name. Back in 2005, Merkoski, a former Motorola (GOOG) engineer -- from a New Jersey newspaper family, of all things -- was one of the early designers of Amazon's (AMZN) ubiquitous e-reader, the Kindle.
"When I got there, there were 10 people on the team," he said. "By the time I left five years later, there were an incalculable number."
Merkoski has written a memoir of sorts about his experience with e-readers called Burning the Page, the print edition of which comes out this week. It's not the tell-all investors would have liked -- Amazon, he says, makes employees such as Merkoski sign what amounts to a lifetime non-disclosure agreement."If it is actually legal, I don't know," he said. "But it feels to me like the written version of brass knuckles from Jeff Bezos. So I don't mess with it." Merkoski has made himself available to me over the past several months and has been as valuable a guide as I've met through the narrative that is virtual written media. "Overall, I remain optimistic with what we did with Kindle and the recalibration of books and newspapers," he told me "But the concept of Internet centrism is being abused. I am troubled by the notion that somehow the Internet by itself will solve our problems. I am definitely not in that school." "Information is being given sentient rights that come in conflict with those of humans," he said. "That duality is the major challenge of the 21 century. No question."
What's striking about Merkoski's somber view of all things digital, when it comes to books and publishing, is how passionately he believes in the power of emerging tools to optimize the printed word. "My dad was the editor of The Press of Atlantic City, which is one new Jersey's largest papers," he said. "So I grew up around writers and reporters." He's ebullient about the role he played in the design and engineering of the Kindle. How his studies of creative writing and math connected to his experience running a small publishing house. And how it all meshed with the Web systems and intricate cellular networks he had built. "I was able to combine system design, publishing, authoring and my love of books," he said. "It was the ideal role for me." And overall, he sees nothing but upside in the evolution of words in the information age. "The magazine and printed word are not dying," he said. "They are just changing."
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