Follow Up to My Review of 'Digital Barbarism'

by: The Rational Walk

Last week, I wrote a review of Mark Helprin’s new book entitled Digital Barbarism. In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, columnist L. Gordon Crovitz reports on a conversation with Mr. Helprin about the reaction to the book.

Here is a brief excerpt of Mr. Helprin’s comments about the reaction to his latest book. Click on this link for the full Wall Street Journal article, which appears to be free to non-subscribers.

“More information is a good thing, and of course we want people to know more,” Mr. Helprin told me last week. “But this enhanced power has side effects we need to understand.” If people expect books to be free, he said, there will be fewer books. If authors instead need to rely on foundations or universities for their support, the medium that was supposed to empower individuals will instead force them to rely on others.

“The printing press enabled people to write individually, without having to be supported by kings or churches,” Mr. Helprin says. Without strong copyright protection, “we will go back to the corporatist model, so that only people relying on institutions will be supported, and in the process they will have lost their individual freedom to write as they want.”

This is well stated and something I believe the majority of Americans probably agree with. As I noted in my review last week, it is unfortunate that this clear message was diluted by excessive stereotyping and attacks on Mr. Helprin’s opponents throughout the contents of his otherwise compelling book.

If Mr. Helprin had used even a small fraction of the techniques outlined by Robert B. Cialdini in Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, a more effective case could have been made. The literary equivalent of dropping an anvil on your opponents is rarely as effective as Mr. Cialdini’s techniques.