Ebooks and charity ideas

by Rob Tiller

This week I went to Dallas and back twice. I will not complain, except to note that long periods confined in small seats do not get easier as the hours pass. I sat next to a fifteen year old kid on the way back, who, by the end of the flight, was writhing in discomfort, and I remembered how this was even tougher when I was younger.

I spent some of the seat time reading my first ebooks on my iPad. As a confirmed bibliophile, I doubted I would really like ebooks, but my compulsion to have handy several books when I travel has created problems with weight limits, and pushed me towards trying this lightweight solution. Using the Kindle software, it took me just a few minutes to fall in love with the format. I like the typeface and type size, the ability to highlight and annotate, and the light weight.

My first ebook was Against Intellectual Monopoly, by Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine, an against-the-grain discussion of the problems with our patent and copyright systems. I was gratified to see a discussion of Red Hat as a primary example of why patents don’t achieve anything close to their intended purpose in the software area.

It’s interesting how ideas can seem particularly interesting during cross-country flights, and how frequently new ones pop up. I found myself thinking about an NPR story from last week about individuals who commission new pieces of music or plays. The point of the story was that the cost could be shared with others and spread over time, so that being a patron and bringing a new piece of art into the world could be more affordable than you’d think.

I really liked the idea of contributing in a direct and immediate way to new art. If I can’t be a composer, perhaps I could help in the creation of music by funding one. So, how about a web site to allow composers, choreographers, or others to propose commission-worthy projects, and donors likewise to seek suitable artists? Sort of an arts-funding Craigslist. Sure, it could be there’s just not sufficient interest, but then, not so long ago Craigslist sounded like a fantasy.

The web today is a big part of my life, and of the lives of most people I know. In almost no time it’s gone from a novelty to a utility, and now I take it for granted much like the interstate highway system. Yet we may have just begun to scratch the surface of what it can do — things that go way beyond shopping and entertainment. Facebook and Twitter haven’t really inspired me, but they point in the direction of more immediate and wide-ranging connections that have more human meaning. It could reduce the barriers to charitable giving by making needs and resources easier to see and connect.

For example, it’s hard for me to visualize the enormous suffering from the current flooding in Pakistan, and hard to feel like there’s much I can personally do about it. But if I could connect with a person who’s lost everything and understand their story using web multimedia, it could help me, and I suspect others to open their hearts and wallets. People who’ve lost everything can’t easily get online, of course, but the tools that could get them there already exist. It would take some thought and energy. This could be an open source project.