My publisher insists that books still matter. In the changing landscape of written media, its easy to see why he may need to convince himself (I actually agree with him, I just like to listen to how he shapes his arguments).
Perhaps this quote from Socrates might help... (Courtesy of Thomas West, Thinking Like Einstein and Marc Andreesen's blog):
"Long ago, Socrates described some second thoughts he had about the new and questionable technology called a "book". He thought it had several weaknesses. A book could not adjust what it was saying, as a living person would, to what would be appropriate for certain listeners or specific times or places. In addition, a book could not be interactive, as in a conversation or dialogue between persons. And finally, according to Socrates, in a book the written words "seem to talk to you as if they were intelligent, but if you ask them anything about what they say, from a desire to be instructed, they go on telling you just the same thing forever."Why bring this up? Its where the web led me as I followed an argument about how blogs are so yesterday - today its all about building your own social network, mashing up your "tweets" with your 30boxes account, and on and on.
It came to mind because of the changing nature of blogs (google.org's doesn't allow comments - making it more like Socrates book than like a blog), their role as info sources (how many do you read each day?), and an unsubscribe message I received regarding this blog, citing "too many updates" as the reason for leaving. Do I blog too much? Did she leave or did she just shift to reading the blog in a reader and not via email? Will she come back?
For those of us that do blog (and can't keep up with our Facebook or twitter accounts), all of the above might seem a bit disheartening - behind the tech curve, one more time. But does it matter? Note that the blog post about Socrates drew the quote from a book. Admittedly, I read the passage using an online book preview function and didn't have to head to the library or bookstore to find it. Which allowed me to write this at 4 am after being up all night with sick child (not sure if that is good or bad).
Finally, so what for philanthropy? In the changing landscape of giving options, one distinguishing value of endowed foundations - more than ever before - may be their permanence. That is not the same as saying everything should be endowed or that everything endowed is valuable - just to say that permanence is a choice, it is a distinguishing factor to some types of giving options, and one should consider its value in making choices about how to deploy philanthropic resources.
Endowing a foundation is by no means the only option for donors - so choose carefully. What could permanence accomplish? What limitations does it bring along with it? Do endowed foundations accomplish social goals that advised funds, community foundation support, giving circles, or direct gifts to nonprofits don't or can't? If so, how must endowed foundations be structured and supported and used to realize these values? These are the questions donors face today - how to compare the various giving options and get maximum value (for themselves and for the public good) from their suite of choices.
Remember - TV didn't kill the radio, twitter won't kill blogs, blogging can't beat a book, and endowed foundations are only one option for giving.