Wednesday, August 26, 2009

DOES DIGITAL MEDIA MAKE PRINTED BOOKS WORTHLESS?


For the last couple of days I have been corresponding with someone on Facebook about healthcare. (I promise this Post will not be about healthcare) He would write something and I would respond. And yes, all of my responses were just as lengthy and boring as you might imagine. Yesterday, my computer alerted me that my sparring partner had struck again. Another challenge! I couldn't wait to rush home and post yet another, oh so clever retort. The strange thing is when I went to respond, my adversary’s latest post was gone, along with all his previous posts. All that were left were my responses. Standing alone they looked like the rambling of a crazy person. If you read them without seeing his stuff it seemed very much like I would write something then wander away only to return moments later to answer questions no one had asked, as though I was responding to voices in my head, only I could hear. I was arguing about Lyndon Johnson for god’s sake. But I swear he brought it up first! All digital media is fluid. Like the ocean, do not trust it or you will surely drown.

Have you heard about the Kindle? It’s a small digital note pad that allows you to purchase and download digital books through Amazon. In July of this year many owners of the Kindle woke up to find that the copy of George Orwell’s book 1984 they had previously purchased, had been deleted from their notepad without their permission. Their bank accounts and credit cards had been credited the amount that they had paid for the book. It seems that because of some mix up, Amazon did not really have the right to sell 1984. So their solution – sent out a command to all Kendal’s to delete Orwell’s book. The irony writes itself.

One of the good things about digital books is that they can be updated automatically, handy if there is a typo. But, what happens if the book is a political nonfiction, say about a war or a previous administration. What if the author writes something that someone else thinks is libelous? To avoid a law suit, does the publisher send out a signal through the internet to remove the offending passages. Do all digital books become sterilized, cleansed of all political incorrectness? Where will we turn if we want to find the original texts of some long dead author? In the future, will real printed books become more valuable because they cannot be easily changed?

Now, the inevitable slide into dorkiness. I remember this episode of Star Trek were Captain Kirk was being court marshaled for some crime he did not commit. To help defend him they found this crusty old lawyer who insisted on toting a mountain of law books with him wherever he traveled. Kirk asked the old man why he didn’t just use his computer. Holding up a book the lawyer said, “This is where the law is. Not in that homogenized pasteurized synthesized - you want to know the law, the ancient concepts in their own language? …learn the intent of the men who wrote them -Books.” Books are cool.

Friday, August 14, 2009

FIGHTING WITH MYSELF

EVIL NICK: God! have you seen all those conservatives screaming at town hall meetings. I have news for them. Contrary to their convoluted belief, none of the healthcare bills currently in congress say anything about “death panels euthanizing your grandparents.” Nor have they ever. These republicans are panicky little crybabies. It reminds me of that study that came out a while back that proved that conservatives act the way they do because they are less brave then liberals.

GOOD NICK: I assume you are referring to the study last year published in the “Journal Science” by Kevin B Smith. It suggested a link between the positions people hold on such controversial issues as gun control, pacifism and capital punishment with their reaction to disturbing images and startling sounds.

EVIL NICK: Yah, that’s the one. They measured perspiration and eye reaction and found that conservatives are three times more afraid of stuff then progressives. Damn pantywaists. Every little thing in the world sends then running for the covers.

GOOD NICK: Now it’s not right to draw such broad conclusions from those tests. Only 46 people were studied at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the study was just preliminary. Besides, all the subjects were drawn from one small Midwest town, hardly definitive. If we were talking about a study supporting some homeopathic drug, you would be the first one to point out that the study was just “preliminary” and in science a “preliminary study” only means that more research might be warranted.

EVIL NICK: Oh come on, who are you kidding. You know conservatives are a bunch of frightened wing nuts. Look at the “birthers,” right wing flakes who think President Obama wasn’t born in the US. This, despite the fact that his certificate of birth and birth announcement from Hawaiian newspapers have been posted on line and have been examined by independent sources and the republican governor of Hawaii. The real scary thing about this is that the conspiracy wackjobs that are still talking about this are Republican Senators.

GOOD NICK: I told you not to bring up the “birther controversy.” You know that studies show that when you talk about a phony controversy, even if just to thoroughly discredit it, people walk away just remembering that there was “some controversy.” They don’t remember that it was debunked. That’s why Phil Donahue, and legitimate news organizations stopped giving airtime to Nazis and the KKK back in the seventies. It legitimizes the crackpots.

EVIL NICK: you mean like that study conducted by University of Michigan that presented people with false claims, clearly labeled as such. Three days later researchers asked those same people about the claims and found that 40 percent of them remembered the false claims as true, even though they were originally clearly identified as false.

GOOD NICK: Yes. That’s why you shouldn’t even acknowledge people when they are repeating lies, even if it is just to debunk them. Wait a second, unless you were just using the “birther controversy” as an excuse to talk about those studies, giving you yet another opportunity to write about critical thinking.

EVIL NICK: how do you know I wasn’t?

GOOD NICK: Well played.