Skip to main content

E-books are not the end of democracy

Ben and I use this week's Scripps Howard column to consider recent comments by novelist Jonathan Franzen. Do e-books signal the end of democracy? My take.
Last year, I read "The Federalist Papers" for the first time. The book is a collection of 200-year-old newspaper essays from Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison -- Founding Fathers all -- explaining and defending the Constitution of the United States. I read almost none of it on paper.

Instead, I read the venerable document on these devices: a netbook, an iPhone, my iPad, a desktop computer and a Kindle. I took notes and made highlights, and many of the ideas I discovered and engaged in that book, on those devices, later became the basis for points I make in this weekly column.

According to Franzen, though, my experience is impossible. According to Franzen, I should've opted to use those devices to play "Angry Birds" instead.

When new technologies come along, old technologies are replaced. It's true that sometimes we lose something of value as a result. I've been an avid reader since I learned how to read; I love bookstores and I love having shelves of books. It makes me sad to see stores like Borders go out of business because times have changed.

Here's another truth: The rise of e-books has opened up worlds of opportunity for writers whose work didn't fit the templates of old-school publishers. A friend of mine, Justin Blessinger, self-published a comic novella at Amazon, because print publishers don't have much use for novellas. More famously, writer Amanda Hocking got rich selling her fantasy novels as e-books -- and only then was signed to a major publisher. Similar stories abound: Publishing has become more egalitarian, and democratic, thanks to e-books.

The Founders didn't need books, exactly, to break away from Britain and create the Constitution -- they needed the ideas contained in those books. E-books are just a new way to create and pass down those ideas.

They're doing the job quite well
I tried to avoid utopian-type talk in my take; Ben gives in to his dystopian side, basically suggesting us e-book readers will rue our proclivities when the revolution comes and electricity is denied the masses. Less darkly, he also notes that cloud-based reading puts readers at the mercy of the cloud providers. A good objection. Not, at this point, a fatal one for me.


Popular posts from this blog


I've been making some life changes lately — trying to use the time I have, now that I'm back in Kansas, to improve my health and lifestyle. Among the changes: More exercise. 30 minutes a day on the treadmill. Doesn't sound like a lot, but some is more than none, and I know from experience that getting overambitious early leads to failure. So. Thirty minutes a day.

One other thing: Yoga, a couple of times a week. It's nothing huge — a 15-minute flexibility routine downloaded from an iPhone app. But I've noticed that I'm increasingly limber.

Tonight, friends, I noticed a piece of trash on the floor. I bent over at the waist and picked it up, and threw it away.

Then I wept. I literally could not remember the last time I'd tried to pick something off the floor without grunting and bracing myself. I just did it.

Small victories, people. Small victories.

Liberals: We're overthinking this. Hillary didn't lose. This is what it should mean.

Nate Cohn of the New York Times estimates that when every vote is tallied, some 63.4 million Americans will have voted for Clinton and 61.2 million for Trump. That means Clinton will have turned out more supporters than any presidential candidate in history except for Obama in 2008 and 2012. And as David Wasserman of Cook Political Report notes, the total vote count—including third party votes—has already crossed 127 million, and will “easily beat” the 129 million total from 2012. The idea that voters stayed home in 2016 because they hated Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is a myth. We already know the Electoral College can produce undemocratic results, but what we don't know is why — aside from how it serves entrenched interests — it benefits the American people to have their preference for national executive overturned because of archaic rules designed, in part, to protect the institution of slavery. 

A form of choosing the national leader that — as has happened in …

I'm not cutting off my pro-Trump friends

Here and there on Facebook, I've seen a few of my friends declare they no longer wish the friendship of Trump supporters — and vowing to cut them out of their social media lives entirely.

I'm not going to do that.

To cut ourselves off from people who have made what we think was a grievous error in their vote is to give up on persuading them, to give up on understanding why they voted, to give up on understanding them in any but the most cartoonish stereotypes.

As a matter of idealism, cutting off your pro-Trump friends is to give up on democracy. As a matter of tactics, cutting off your pro-Trump friends is to give up on ever again winning in a democratic process.

And as a long-term issues, confining ourselves to echo chambers is part of our national problem.

Don't get me wrong: I expect a Trumpian presidency is a disaster, particularly for people of color. And in total honesty: My own relationships have been tested by this campaign season. There's probably some damage…