Can Republicans own innovation?

Never thought I would say this, but I actually like this piece from Grover Norquist on Reuters. His idea is that Republicans should use the sharing economy to take back the urban demographic from the Democrats. It’s worth reading.

It is not on the strength of the argument that I would advocate looking at the piece – his basic argument is that the sharing economy is created by democrats in the Bay Area, a classic Democratic area, and it will clash with unions, another strongly Democratic group. This sounds like it could be a clash, but it probably won’t happen, since neither the Democrats in California nor the young liberals using Uber and Airbnb would turn against the Democrats in the short term even if Lyft doesn’t get a license in all cities.

The aspects which I find more interesting with the piece is that of the politics of tech. Tech and Silicon Valley were apolitical for a long time, churning out new products and not getting involved in the politics of the Hill. This started to change a few years ago, with armies of Google and Facebook lobbyists descending on DC to lobby for skilled immigration and driverless cars regulation.

Tech and innovation present a new way for Republicans to create a new interesting narrative for themselves. Republicans have for the last few years moved away from their historical role of being the party of intellectual leadership and become the anti-intellectual party instead. The role of defender of innovation on philosophical grounds could be a fruitful path to connect with young voters on a deeper level.

Innovation is tightly linked to free markets, and the lack of unnecessary regulation. We all want to the future where we read a book while being driven to work by our driverless car and get our sandwiches delivered by Amazon Prime Air drones. And with the Democrats being tied down to a lot of status quo-keeping regulation, that future is probably more of a Republican future.

Why are books still necessary in the digital age?

I’ve been thinking recently about how it can be that books is still the essential platform for publishing and publicizing. It feels like an antiquated notion that it’s not until someone has published their thoughts or research in the book format that they have achieved legitimacy. This really shouldn’t still be the case, given that we now have a multitude of other platforms and delivery methods. However, it is still the case that all the other platforms are seen as just a stepping stone to the ultimate goal, of publishing a book.

For example, a few years ago, we saw several popular blogs be turned into books. Then it was taken to the next level when Twitter accounts became books (unless they turned out to be fake, like the Goldman elevator one). None of these really worked. What works in blog format or, especially, tweet format, will often not work in a longer, linear book format.

By now, every other piece of content has been unbundled by digitization. Instead of buying music albums, we buy separate tracks. Newspapers have been replaced by headlines on web sites. TV cables have been cut thanks to the introduction of Netflix. But books retain their stature in our culture.

This is definitely not thanks to the sales numbers. Mike Pesca, in today’s The Gist, had a long, very funny, comparison on how little books sell compared to other media. Hillary Clinton’s latest book apparently sold less this week than there are readers of the tiny newspaper Uniontown Herald and Gazette (or something like that), and it still made number two on NYT’s bestseller list.

And it’s not because people actually read the whole books. This Business Insider article reported on fun research showing how little people actually read of famous books. In Piketty, for example, readers got on average only to page 26. For many books, especially management and business books, it really isn’t essential to read the whole thing, you can get a good idea from reading the first few chapters, or just the abstract.

I think it’s time that we recognize that we need a new approach. Ebooks should be able to significantly shorter without losing value. A post on HuffPo should suffice as a thought piece. Fun tweets should be able to be sold in collected format without necessarily justifying them by calling it “a book”. Let’s take publishing into this century. Hopefully sites like Medium or Contributoria can help bring this on.