Quickly read over this piece.
“We’d also be shocked if we didn’t see this happen more often in the future as digital media quickly replaces physical books.” Bam. That’s it. We wouldn’t be surprised. Click off of this post and go read another blurb.
Yet despite the nonchalant way in which last sentence of that article was written, my entire being recoiled against it. My stomach felt as if an enraged Apollo Creed had gone to town on my abs. But why, why was this semi-interesting blurb irritating me so much? It took me a few moments of pondering before the answer came to me. There is a subtle flaw in this statement, a bit of nuance that was doing the irritating. Let me see if I can bring it to light.
If you broke a traditional book down into it’s properties, it has accidental properties and essential properties. Accidental properties are ones which, if changed, wouldn’t change what the thing is. For example a book with a red cover is just as much a traditional book as one with a yellow cover. The color of the cover is an accidental property. An essential property is one which, without it, the thing is not still the thing. A book made out of cake, while tasty, would no longer be a book. We might call it a cake-book, but it would not be considered a traditional book.
This distinction is helpful when thinking about digital and physical books. A book’s readability is an essential property of it, one would be hard pressed to prove that an unreadable book was still a book. With the shift from physical to digital books it quickly became apparent that that the medium was not as much an essential property as people had originally thought. The Great Gatsby on an iPad was still The Great Gatsby despite the lack of paper pages.
When swearing people into office, I would argue that a physical, tactile book (or a Bible in this case) is a necessary part of the ceremony, and that an iPad is an inappropriate fill-in for a physical Bible. When one swears on a Bible, they swear on (and by) all of the different bits of the Bible, recalling the portions that uphold honesty and keeping one’s word. But past that, they swear on the entire Bible, the collection of works that make the Bible what it is. They don’t swear on an individual page, nor do they swear on a bookstore that has a Bible in it. To do seems intuitively wrong. To swear on an individual page seems too exclusive whereas swearing on a bookstore seems too inclusive. An iPad is more analogous to the bookstore. Yes, there is a Bible on the iPad but the iPad is not a Bible and thus shouldn’t be sworn on. I guess we know what to get the New Jersey City Hall for it’s birthday: a backup Bible.