William sent me the commercial below called “Emma.” It deals with the idea of the “exciting” paperless future. I’m agnostic on this issue. I’ll read anything in any form. Just the same, being agnostic tends to put me off the chart in terms of our new technological frontier. For a very long time, I have stayed out of the Windows-Mac wars. While it is true that I have major problems with the company Apple, I like their products just fine. It doesn’t matter to me what computer I use: they are all just tools.
The biggest problem with the new technology is that it has been commoditized from the beginning. I go to one or more libraries several times per week. Libraries are one of the greatest things ever. Yet if the idea were being developed today, it would never happen. The publishing companies would scream about how the libraries were stealing money by systematizing the use of a single book for perhaps hundreds of readers. Indeed, you may have noticed that for most books you get on your Kindle, you can loan them to a friend precisely once for two weeks. And that’s if you are dealing with a liberal publisher; some don’t even allow that! So the new technological frontier is really only for the wealthier classes. And regardless, it is designed (Designed!) to maximize profits and minimize community.
A hard copy book is the essence of freedom—or at least the closest we ever come to freedom. You can do whatever you want with that book. You can sell it or loan it to a friend. When you read it in public, you share it with others. You can store it in the attic and know that people a hundred years from now will have the technology to read it. Increasingly, our electronic content not only locks us into specific technologies, it locks us into our own worlds. And it limits us in more ways than it frees us.
Bear in mind that the main problem here is not really the technology. If content were easily transferable, it wouldn’t matter so much. This website, for example, is not only available here; you can look at through time at the Internet Archive. And when Dean Baker released The End of Loser Liberalism, he did so in various formats that will be available indefinitely. So it isn’t technology that is holding us back.
The problem is that the companies who distribute content have more power than they ever have. And that power is used to hinder communication. It is very much like insurance companies whose primary function is to limit healthcare. Look, I’m not a fool. I understand that the book is a technology. I understand that profits have only ever been the purpose of business. But we do not in live a free market “paradise.” There are rules as to how business is done. And when those rules are set by the people who have a vested interest in destroying our culture, we have a problem. And we have a problem.
But this commercial is really great: