I Swear on the Gorilla Glass

Suzi LeVine, the new U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, became the first US official to be sworn in on a Kindle, specifically a Kindle displaying a copy of the constitution (from the photo on the Washington Post blog it looks like the eReader was displaying the 19th amendment [women’s suffrage]).

Let’s acknowledge that this might feel a little weird. Weirder still might be the group of firefighters sworn in on an iPad Bible. But is being sworn in on a digital copy of a book really any different than the physical one?

That depends on what you think the purpose of the artifact is, and what the motives were for using a digital equivalent.

My argument would be that swearing on the constitution or the Bible is intended to bring those documents to mind. Basically, putting your hand on the Bible is supposed to make you think about actually being in the presence of God, and that your words are being spoken in front of him as well as anyone in the room. When you swear on the constitution you are pledging your loyalty to our country and its guiding principles, and if you’re an ambassador you are pledging to be our representative, to speak for us.

So does a physical book do a better job of invoking this state of mind than a digital book?

I don’t buy it. Sure a book has heft, weight, substance, but I think it’s easy to either be sincere or to go through the motions no matter what you’re putting your hand on.

Now I’m not making the argument that a physical book and an eBook are the same thing. I’m merely stating that the differences do not have a significant impact on the symbol, or at least they don’t have to. For me, a digital Bible is eminently more practical, useful and effective in my life than the dozen physical Bibles I own. The digital Bible is always with me, and even though I don’t read it as often as I like, I read it a lot more than any of the physical Bibles (even my nice little hardbound red one I bought specifically to carry with me everywhere).

The experience of God is not tied to a specific medium, and the impact of our country is not tied to a bound or scrolled or engraved constitution.

Now a Kindle might signify laziness on the part of someone doing the ceremony. They couldn’t be troubled to find a nice copy of the constitution so they found one online in a second. And I bet in some cases this is true, but again care is more a function of the heart of the person taking the oath than the actual circumstances. And in this case she took the time to swear on a significant amendment (and the time to adjust the font ridiculously large and show it in landscape view).

For some people. the digital version will never be quite the same, and for them the physical is a good thing. But for others, the digital has the same if not more significance.

What do you guys think? Is this the beginning of the erosion of our natural principles, or is it just the natural progression of technology?


Filed under Trube On Tech

2 responses to “I Swear on the Gorilla Glass

  1. I agree. A book is just ink and paper. It’s the words that are important, and they remain a symbol regardless of the medium used to read them. I wonder if they had this confusion when they switched from stone tablets to papyrus?

  2. As absolutely fascinating as this concept is to me (I confess, it had never occurred to me that people would be sworn in on a digital device), my vote will be for the possibly boring: natural progression of technology.

    It’s not the object, but the ideas – the power – in the words that are displayed, that brings formality and gravity to the swearing in ceremony.

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