Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

Amazon and U.S. government collaborate in international learning initiative


Mysterious things are afoot in the world of cultural diplomacy and English language education. The digital revolution has moved beyond the marble halls of the Department of Justice and into the Department of State.

A fleet of Kindles will soon be deployed abroad.

On June 15, a notice to the press was issued by the Office of the Spokesperson:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos will announce the global launch of the Kindle Mobile Learning Initiative on June 20, 2012 at 11:00 a.m. in the Ben Franklin Room at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. This public-private partnership with and the U.S. government will create a global e-reader program that introduces aspects of U.S. society and culture directly to young people, students, and international audiences in new ways and expands English language learning opportunities worldwide.

Having done my fair share of cultural ambassador work abroad, the Kindle Mobile Learning Initiative intrigues me—though I am curious how it will be structured and how (if at all) administrators will modify the program to suit the societies, cultures, and educations systems involved. With only this announcement to go by, I have nothing but questions. Will the program require schools abroad to integrate the use of Kindles into their curriculums? What regions of the world will be the focus?

As for the next logical question, “How much will the government be spending?” according to, “the State Department is considering a $16.5 million, 5-year no-bid contract with Amazon that could include as many as 35,000 Kindle e-Readers and content.” The Kindles would then be sent to libraries and “U.S.-friendly educational centers” abroad with the goal of assisting those interested in learning English and exploring American culture.

Clearly, Jeff Bezos must be tickled pink about this entire arrangement. Although not officially the case, what I see here is government-subsidized marketing and endorsement. While the delivery of content is the objective, users come into contact first with the device. The enhancement of Amazon’s international brand visibility is inevitable. goes on to explain that “Department officials determined that Kindles were the only appropriate device for the contract, which was not opened to competitive bidding […] The Amazon e-Readers were selected because they come with a built-in English dictionary, support foreign languages, translate text to speech, and receive information securely from a content distribution platform managed by the State Department.” Other major readers apparently didn’t make the cut for lack of the same text-to-speech function, battery life, and global Wi-Fi connectivity.

Stay tuned for more updates on the Kindle Mobile Learning Initiative!


This entry was posted on June 19, 2012 by in News, Technology and tagged , , , .

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