Leveling Up

A listener to my podcast found useful a segment we did on leveling up in legal thinking. You can find that particular episode here. What follows is a slightly more careful introduction to that idea, at least as it exists now as a segment in the first draft of an introduction to a more general legal theory on which I'm working.

It may be helpful to reflect for a moment on how the legal student can be somewhat naturally led to the big questions after a time immersed in the study of practice. As with video games (and Dungeons and Dragons), continuously gained experience can win discrete jumps in understanding: levels. When I introduce the idea to students of leveling up, it never fails to earn a few chuckles and smirks. But it also helps them see what they already know but have usually not yet thought to acknowledge.

Assume for a moment that we know in rough detail what a legal system is and that it is in the business of, among other things, resolving definitively disputes among those who belong to it. Conceptually, we assume the following chart:

Dispute --> Legal System --> Judgment

The level one legal practitioner, just beginning his or her hero’s journey, would analyze the informational inputs concerning the dispute and the legal information available within the legal system and make a judgment. This judgment would, necessarily, connect the information concerning the dispute to the judgment according to some set of reasons. At level one, the practitioner is able to seize upon reasons that resolve the case.

For example, suppose one person demands payment from a business owner after being struck by a barrel that somehow fell out of the business’s second-story window. The level one practitioner, hearing these facts and various but contradictory sets of reasons for resolution urged by the two sides, believes the plaintiff should win. Perhaps he or she decides that (1) prior cases establish that negligent conduct that somehow directly (meaning, as far as the practitioner can tell, not too indirectly) injures someone creates a duty of compensation, (2) prior cases should be followed when they have a uniform implication for a present dispute, (3) that negligence should be found even when there is no direct information concerning the negligent actions themselves if the consequence of the unobserved actions can hardly be imagined to occur without negligence.

Armed with this set of reasons, the practitioner then concludes that barrels do not fall out of second-story windows without someone’s gross inattention and that there was no explanation from the business owner that would suggest otherwise. This being so, we should legally conclude the injury directly resulted from the negligence of the business owner. Because the prior cases uniformly find liability in cases like that (yes, we are traversing the void here) and because he or she is determined to follow the uniform command of precedent, the level one practitioner concludes that the legal system should order the business owner to compensate the victim.

Case after case is considered in more or less this way, at first. The rule ought to be “this,” because “that.” What about this other situation? Well there it ought to be “this other thing” for “these other reasons.” At some point, we should wake up a little and ask ourselves, “What reasons should be used to resolve cases?” It won’t do to form ephemeral attachments to reasons to resolve particular cases. We need to understand the set of reasons we will deploy a bit better. And perhaps we will argue about what constitutes a good reason and what sort of reason is not so good.

And here we are at level two: instead of plucking reasons from the ether and forming opinions about case outcomes, we are interested in the more general calculus of reasons that we will use to resolve cases. Is a concern with economic efficiency compatible with a belief that law should advance a particular conception of virtue ethics? Are there domains in which the two are compatible but other domains in which we must choose, somehow, which theory to bring to bear, and with it a cascade of reasons we will use to decide cases.

In the barrel case, should it matter what the social utility of the business’s product is and how liability might interfere with its mission? What if it’s extremely useful to some portion of the population but others think the business evil? (Maybe it’s building weapons that some believe critical for national defense and not immoral for that reason but that others believe is inherently immoral because of the particular way it maims.) Should the level of societal support for the business matter? Is there too steep a price in departing from the uniform view of the cases in situations that can be abstractly framed as “injuries proximately caused by negligence,” or would it be sound to carve out a social necessity defense?

Here, at level two, we might study the law not by cataloging its “rules” in situation after situation, but by more directly studying the reasons that seem to count and understanding why those that do not do not. Our investigation will cover different approaches that contain sets of reasons: economic efficiency, distributive justice, the problems of natural monopoly and collective action, the problem of informational asymmetries and more general imbalances in market power. At level two, our sophistication is such that we can bring a new kind of understanding to areas of the law we have not yet formally studied. We can begin to predict the kinds of arguments that will be made on each side. This, obviously, is a critical skill for an advocate.

Despite our new-found confidence, we find that we occasionally run into cases where the reasons for decision are of a type unlike the others. These are cases in which, whatever the reasons for reaching one conclusion or the other, there is yet another reason not to deploy them: that this decisionmaker is somehow the wrong one for the task of reason-choosing in this case. And so, perhaps, one argument in our barrel case is that our tribunal has never before found negligence and ordered compensation on that ground where the specific actions constituting negligence have not been described and that whether to create such reasons as would accomplish that task should be left not to us but to another institution, perhaps the legislature. Why? Well, maybe, we worry that allowing courts to find negligence without forming judgments about exactly what happened will lead to decisions to create categories of industrial output that are always compensable when they cause injury, without regard to the internal considerations of cost and benefit that a plaintiff would otherwise have some obligation to ferret out. Judges, acting case by case, might not appreciate the effects of those categorizations, making it too easy to bring lawsuits that have a chance of winning, and creating for too much social cost. Maybe broad-based hearings, across multiple industrial sectors, would be wise, and maybe the information thus adduced would counsel a more targeted solution to the problem of accidents that happen as a result of complex industrial processes. (Not that I find any of this compelling. We are talking about a kind of argument here.)

With this form of argumentation, we arrive at level three and with it a new model of the legal landscape. Our simplistic picture:

Dispute --> Legal System --> Resolution

was too simple to describe the sorts of considerations we think appropriate in many cases. A legal system is not just one decisionmaker, but many. And level three legal reasoning concerns not sifting through the reasons that will lead to case outcomes but to giving a reason to assign that level two task to a particular institution within the legal system. This is a question for the legislature. This one is for the courts. This is for an administrative agency. Those are conclusions about institutional assignment, and once we begin to speak in terms of those reasons, we command a much more sophisticated understanding of legal systems, because the decisionmaker considers whether it must apply its own reasons (in which case level two would suffice) or whether it must defer to the reasons chosen by others.

Once we have come this far, it is obvious there is yet at least one more level to attain. After all, once we say that we should ask what reason we have to assign a decision to a particular institution, we should recognize that we must have reasons for choosing among competing such reasons. And so level four is attained when the legal student recognizes that much of the work in law, and much dispute that seems bound up with substance, actually arises from disputes concerning the proper reasons to use when deciding on institutional assignment. I will become intensely interested in this sort of reasoning in much of what follows.

For now, just observe, for example, that people disagree about how courts should treat statutes (whether to confine their attention to portions of statutory text, whether to look at any of a number of dictionaries, whether to consult legislative metadata concerning the statute, whether to infer purposes and to aid those purposes, etc.). These disputes are, at bottom, disputes about what courts are and what legislatures are within the legal system, and those constitutive questions can be identified with the reasons an advocate has for believing particular sets of reasons should govern decision of the “who” question. Justice Scalia appears to believe, for example, that conservation of legitimacy is an overriding desiderata in developing theories of assignment and that unelected judges achieve legitimacy only by channeling the policies (the level two decisions) of elected bodies rather than making their own, because legitimacy arises primarily from relatively direct accountability to the people. Those who disagree with him have different level four theories of assignment. They may believe, for example, that while legitimacy is important, it is (a) achieved in part by pragmatic decisionmaking and not only by deferring or maybe (b) actually frustrated by clothing decisions in illusory certainty but is advanced by candor concerning the uncertainty of, say, constitutional or statutory meaning.

There are obviously many other potential elements of a level four theory. The point is that once we begin to discuss at this level, we can become clearer about what our actual disagreement concerns, where the irreducible and ultimately political judgment about control must lie. Level four is the most abstract of these and thus often naturally resisted by students. That is as it should be. We should only embrace abstraction when it makes our job easier and certainly, unless for sport, never when it makes our job harder. My point in this work is partly to reveal how abstraction is the process that makes legal systems possible in a practical sense.

A bit more deeply: abstraction is the way that humans naturally manage complex systems. A model, which you will recall is the basic unit of my argument in this work, is a conceptual linking of abstractions. All of the levels I have described here represent different ways of thinking about a practitioner’s job within a legal system, yes, but they also proceed from different models of what the legal system is: either including different institutions or blocks or different understandings for how those institutions process information. That claim is one way of setting up a major objective of the theory I propound here.

Law's Not That Hard, 3: Lawsuits

This is the third in a series of posts laying out the basics of the operations of legal systems. I’m a believer that law is not nearly as complex as many lay people assume. A little abstraction actually makes the whole thing accessible to anyone with some facility for analytical thinking. I’m using the blog to begin sketching out a way to present the core ideas. In the first post, I explained the mechanics of making a legal argument.

In the last post, I argued that legal systems have an underlying, simple structure: Contract, Tort, Criminal Law, and a small set called Parens Patriae. The differences between these areas of the law stem solely from who makes the law and who enforces it. Privately made, privately prosecuted law is called Contracts (where individuals make the contracts that govern them and sue if they’re violated). Publicly made, privately prosecuted law is called Torts (e.g., lawsuits for injuries in accidents or violations of fair housing laws). Publicly made, publicly prosecuted law is called Criminal Law (where government attorneys will prosecute for violations of statutes, whether seeking fines for traffic violations or prison time for burglary). My academic work on this model is free for anyone to download … as many times as you wish!

This time, I’m going to get to some nuts and bolts. How do legal actions work? Every suit, no matter the area, has the same form. There are discrete, but not air-tight, steps to convincing a court that the defendant should lose — meaning, be coerced to pay money or otherwise do something he or she wishes not to do. Here they are: Duty, Breach, Causation, Damages, Defenses. Whether it’s Contract, Tort, or Criminal Law, liability is established by showing that there existed a duty, established by a law, that the defendant breached, causing harm to the plaintiff, as to which there are no relevant defenses.

If you know this legal workflow, and you understand the institutional differences between the areas of law, you’ll have an easy time learning how the steps are a little different in each area, and you’ll be able to move between areas with relative ease. That’s the power of abstraction and why it’s worth the effort. Rather than learn a large catalog of skills and procedures for accident law and a completely separate set for lease agreements, we learn the general structure for all lawsuits and how the institutional definition of an area might affect how the general principles are made into specific requirements. If we also know how to formulate legal arguments about these steps, see the first post, we’re off to the races. In this post, again just a first shot at explaining law, I will only lay out these steps. I won’t endeavor to explain, yet, how to make each particular to its area.


The very first question we must address is what the duty, if any, of the defendant was. Duties are what we might casually think of as “the law,” the things you must do or not do. Duties can be created in statutes by legislatures or administrative bodies (think speed limits and nearly all criminal laws), by courts refining the “common law,” or by private individuals in contracts. Each institution will have different rules governing how it can make duties and what kinds of duties it is permitted to create.

For contracts, we examine whether the group of private entities that will be bound by the terms of the contract consented — usually by looking to see whether someone made an offer of terms that the others accepted. If so, the contract operates very much like a statute, specifying that one of the parties is under a duty, say, to deliver a car and that the other is under a duty to remit payment. There really isn’t much difference between this kind of duty, to deliver a car under a contract, and a duty to obey a speed limit under a public statute or regulation. Both are “laws” that courts will back up with coercion, though possibly using different remedies.

Courts explicitly create duties in certain areas not governed by legislation and do so by deciding cases. Historically, Tort, private lawsuits to recover for violations of publicly made law, has been composed primarily of judge-made duties. Suits for injuries sustained in various types of accidents, for example, are the bulk of what first-year students study in tort classes, and these are often governed by the body of prior cases courts have decided. Today, numerous legislatively enacted statutes also provide for and govern private lawsuits. For example, the Civil Rights Act, among other things, creates duties on public accommodations owners and employers not to discriminate against customers and employees on account of race, and it gives private individuals rights to sue if these duties are violated.

(Also note, and I may return to this trans-substantive idea in later posts, that many duties prohibit conduct only if accompanied by a particular mental state, or mens rea in the dead language lawyers sometimes use. So, I’ve only violated the duty contained in a certain murder statute if I purposefully or knowingly kill another human being.)

No matter the source, the question is what conduct the law requires or prohibits. That is duty.


Just because the law imposed a duty on the defendant does not mean the defendant violated the law by breaching that duty. The question, here, is whether the facts show that defendant did something or failed to do something the law required. So if the law imposed on me an obligation when driving to operate my car with the care of an ordinary, competent driver under all the circumstances, whether I breached the duty would turn on an analysis of the facts and an interpretation of the duty. Perhaps the court will compare my facts with those in other driving cases to see whether courts have further specified what kinds of driving fall short of the general duty of care.

Same thing under Contract and Criminal Law. Regardless of the source, we look at the duty the law imposes and then at the facts of our case to see whether that duty was breached — by not performing a contract or by committing a crime, for example.

As a matter of practice, the act of comparing a contractual, statutory or judge-made duty with the facts will sometimes lead to a refining of the duty. The case in front of you may not clearly fall on one side of the violation/no-violation line, forcing you to look more carefully at what the duty is and perhaps sending you back to step one to restate, refine, or amend the duty. This can involve “making new law” either through interpretation — deciding what a written formulation of a duty “really” means — or through judicial amendment.

Consider this example. Maybe some other states have decided, on similar facts to the ones in your case, that the duty of accountants to perform analyses like “reasonably prudent accountants” would, a judge-made tort duty, does not extend to plaintiffs who lack a contractual relationship with the accountant. Still other states have allowed people that the accountant should have foreseen would rely on his or her work to sue. This is a question of duty, and we’re forced to consider more carefully the ambit of the duty (violation only if you also have a contract with the accountant or any foreseeable reliers — or something else?) as we apply the facts to see if there is a breach.

Another example: In a contract for the sale of goods, suppose I receive the goods but pay you less than you think you are owed. The contract contemplated payment but failed to include an explicit price term. Did I violate (breach) a duty established by the contract? We need to go back to the first step and figure out what, specifically, I was obligated to pay. Under the law of most states, I’d be on the hook for a reasonable price at the time of delivery. Whether I breached that implicit obligation depends on what that duty is. So we’ll litigate it, offering evidence of what was reasonable to establish what our private law required me to pay.


Even if I “break the law,” I’m often not liable unless my actions caused a result specified by the law. This is sometimes tricky, because in the law we often use the concept of causation to serve both logical and policy ends. Logically, causation is straightforward to understand, if not always to apply. If I’m under a duty to operate a car non-negligently and I breach that duty, I’m only responsible to someone injured in a crash if I caused his or her injuries. At the very least, my breaching the duty the law established must be a but-for cause of the injury. That is, but for my breach, the injury would not have occurred.

Sometimes this is called “actual causation” or “cause in fact,” instead of “but-for causation.” The problem is that it’s greedy, in computer-nerd speak — it sweeps in lots of conduct that we probably don’t think of as causal. So, if I injure someone in an auto accident, and but for my negligence the person would not have been injured, it’s also the case that my parents are a “but-for” cause of the injuries. After all, no parents, no me. No me, no breach by me.

The law’s solution to this is to require something more than but-for causation. We will insist that the defendant’s conduct was a proximate cause or substantial factor in producing the injury. The language and exact analysis vary, but the idea is to restrict liability to violations that are connected in a fairly direct way to the injury. This is a matter of policy rather than logic.

In both tort and contract law, the ability of the breaching part reasonably to foresee the injury is the key. They differ, though, in the kind and timing of the thing foreseen. Traditionally in tort, if you should have foreseen, at the time of the breach, damage of the kind that occurred, you will be liable for the damages caused even if you couldn’t foresee their magnitude. In contract law, the famous case of Hadley v. Baxendale decided that a defendant who breached a contract to deliver a crankshaft was not responsible for lost profits that were not foreseen (contemplated) at the time of the contract and were not otherwise a “natural consequence” of the breach.

The important thing to note for the moment is that, whatever the limits, they are policy determinations, allocating responsibility for avoiding losses in ways thought best to serve the public interest. Because it’s a policy issue, the extent to which we permit plaintiffs to travel down the but-for path could also be understood as a definition of the scope of the duty the law has created. Consider, for example, the accountant’s liability to third parties. One could characterize the question as going to whether the accountant was a “direct enough” cause of their injuries or to whether we desire, as a matter of policy, to create a duty on an accountant enforceable by foreseeable reliers not in contract with him or her. The practical consequence of this distinction, between duty and proximate cause is that the definition of the duty is in the hands of the judge for such torts. But the question of causation is given to the jury. These distinct ways of seeing the same problem were the subject of the famous torts case, Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co..

Also note that causation can sometimes be difficult to prove. Summers v. Tice is a tort case in which the plaintiff was shot in the face by at least one of two negligent hunters, Dick Cheney-style, but where it was unclear which shooter caused which injury. The court shifted the burden from the plaintiff to each hunter to prove that he was not the cause, lest the plaintiff be stuck unable to prove to a greater than 50% probability that a particular one of them had caused his injury.

Damages and Defenses

This entry has already gone on a bit too long. I’m aiming ultimately for a thin volume, after all. But the final elements of a lawsuit are showing that there were damages, calculating them, and also examining any defenses the law may provide. Your intuition will get you a long way here. But there are some subtleties, and so the nature of remedies will get its own post.

Defenses are generally policy-based limitations on a positively stated duty. They, like other aspects of the lawsuit, could easily be collapsed into the definition of the duty. For example, while it might generally be a violation of a publicly created duty to go onto another’s land without permission, I will not be liable for doing if my entry was to save a life. This is the defense of necessity. One could as easily say that a trespass is defined so as not to included necessary entries.


Obviously, there is much more one could talk about. My goal here is not to convey the information necessary actually to litigate a case or pass the bar. Rather, I want to provide the framework that will permit a reader to develop intuitions about what the law probably is and what it should be. Key to this is understanding legal argument, understanding the general atlas of the law, and understanding how law violations are proved. We now have at least have a sketch of these.

This Thing I Made

Textbooks suck. They’re heavy, difficult to update, expensive, in a fixed order, rarely (excepting some graduate and professional school materials) written by leaders in the field, and too often ridiculous compromises reached by less than competent state committees. A few years ago, I built HydraText.org, which made it possible to solve these problems by giving to teachers the power more easily to build and share their own textbooks. Next week, Apple just might introduce software that solves them for everyone else.

Textbooks Are Playlists

Think about what a textbook is and how you’d build one. There really isn’t much difference between making a textbook and a playlist in iTunes. With music, you put your songs in order. Once you’ve done that, you can burn the playlist to a CD (I said “can” not “would” - it’s not 2001 anymore), listen right on your computer, or sync up the playlist with your phone. So you build it by choosing and ordering songs, and then you output it in various ways.

Same thing with textbooks. You make a table of contents, and under each heading, you put contents. Traditionally, textbooks could only be bought as complete works and in a single format. The teacher or professor would choose a book. The students would then pay whatever it costs and lug it around. The prof then has a choice whether simply to teach the book in order (just play the playlist the publisher shipped) or to try to adapt the book to the class he or she actually wants to teach. Most of my favorite teachers did the latter and would also supplement the book with other materials, some from other books or journals and some of their own notes or other writing.

The actual course book, then, would be another playlist, one laid out in the syllabus, which specifies how the units of content are ordered. First, read this, which can be found here. Then read that, which can be found there. The physical textbook is, in this model, a sourcebook, one among a library of materials from which the virtual course book draws.

There must be a better way. What we want are beautiful, high-quality textbooks, customized to the course the teacher wants to deliver, at low or no cost to students, and available in a range of convenient formats. Getting this right requires a different information-sharing architecture than existed when I first decided to build HydraText.

Many to Many

The best example of shared production of written content on the internet has probably been Wikipedia. The whole idea of a wiki is that a great many people can collaborate to produce a single thing, an encyclopedia for example. Some tasks lend themselves to parallel effort like this, and others don’t. For textbooks, there is Wikibooks, which has essentially the same architecture as Wikipedia. Many people cooperate to produce textbooks.

But that’s not good enough. A teacher wants to produce the perfect textbook for him or her, and at the same time to take advantage of others’ work producing similar materials. We need software that permits many people to collaborate to produce not a single, definitive thing, but many customized things.

Here’s the HydraText solution. Every teacher has an account. And each subject has its own space (or Hydra, as I call it). You can upload or enter individual units of content, which I call Articles. These can be law cases straight from Google, your own text, ideally in John Gruber’s Markdown format but it’ll handle Word documents and other formats as well, PDFs, or even items from the web you’ve saved in Instapaper. You can build a Textbook by creating a table of contents and then adding Articles to each heading. You then hit a button, and out comes a web, ePub, and PDF version of your textbook.

But the real potential lies in sharing. You see, no one else can change your book, like they could if it were a wiki. But they can copy it, make it their own and rearrange the chapters, add more content, or delete content. They can take a chapter of your book, add a chapter of someone else’s, and add some of their own content. And they can build their own book using Articles you and others have added. This is the origin of the name HydraText, the tiny freshwater animals that can grow into whole new animals if cut into pieces.

An iTunes Education Store

My main goal with HydraText was to permit people to cooperate on producing customized texts. The result is an iTunes-style process for building a playlist from content you provide or that already exists in the Hydra. To extend the analogy, HydraText is meant to provide an iTunes Store filled with content in your subject area.

This content has the potential to be much better than what the textbook industry now produces. As it is, to author a casebook is a monumental undertaking. You likely need co-authors and research assistants. A Nobel Laureate, for example, is unlikely ever to take up the task of authoring a Biology 101 textbook but might enjoy writing a terrific section dealing with the heartland of his or her research. Just think of all the supplements teachers at all levels have prepared for their classes and that remain only in file folders, unused by others. By reducing the unit of meaningful contribution from an entire book to a single Article (however short), the HydraText model holds the potential of global use of better learning materials than have ever been produced.

Incidentally, although I haven’t added this feature, there is no barrier to letting users set a price for their content. And so the analogy to the iTunes Store gets even closer. Most materials shared would probably be free, like podcasts, but great content might be worth paying for.

Here’s an example of a textbook, a website from which students can browse the book directly or download a PDF or ebook. This particular book lacks audio, video, or images, all of which are possible, but it gives you an idea. I haven’t used a commercial textbook in years. In the past, my students generally wanted printed copies, and so I’d arrange a group rate with Kinko’s (now Fed-Ex), for maybe $10 for an 800 page book. This year, I’m just beginning to see more students prefer digital-only versions. However they consume it, the choice is theirs. They can read it on their phones, in a three-ring binder, on a tablet, or in a web browser.

What’s Apple Going to Do?

Back in January of 2010, about a week before the iPad was released but when it was clear a tablet was in the offing, I emailed Steve Jobs to tell him about HydraText. I had no idea whether he’d even see it (he did), but I wanted him to know just how important the tablet could be for breaking the textbook logjam. I didn’t hear back from him, but, obviously unrelated to anything in my email, we now know that Jobs had targeted the textbook industry as the next to be revolutionized. According to Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography (another topic but if you’re at all interested in Apple or Jobs, you owe it to yourself to listen to this), he apparently wanted “to hire great textbook writers to create digital versions, and make them a feature of the iPad. In addition, he held meetings with major publishers, such as Pearson Education, about partnering with Apple.”

On Wednesday of this week, Apple issued an invitation to the media to gather at the Guggenheim Museum in New York on Tuesday, January 19 of “an education announcement.” According to the New York Times, the “event will showcase a new push by Apple into the digital textbook business, but will not feature any new devices.”

I think we can assume, at least, that Apple is planning to make textbooks easy to acquire and to consume on the iPad. It’s a reasonable guess that Apple’s solution will use the ePub3 standard, which would allow richer ebooks with more interactive features. But what architecture will Apple pursue? Will they treat textbooks like they do music, where Apple has made deals with the major publishers and features them on something like the Store where they can be easily downloaded? Would there also be something like podcasts on the Store, where teachers can, perhaps using Apple tools, produce and place their own materials, where their students can easily find it. Or could there be something more, a place for more than just books, but some Apple version of MIT’s Open Courseware, where whole courses live, and where the book is just an integrated piece?

My gut, and that’s all it is, tells me Apple will release new reader software, maybe standalone or maybe a new version of iBooks, on the iPad that allows for deeply interactive textbooks, which it will provide on iTunes free or very cheaply. I’m less certain about book creation tools. The Jobs model, from the limited quotes available and from what we know of his preferences and approach in other industries, would seem more likely to be making available beautifully made, professionally produced materials, rather than the tools for open-source-style collaboration.

But perhaps HydraText will become obsolete because Apple provides better production and collaboration tools. That will be so if Apple sees the essential value of customization and production in education. Perhaps, though, HydraText will become even more useful if Apple only provides a better reading platform and supports the richer books HydraText could be used to produce. Quite honestly, whichever they do will be fine by me. I’m a teacher first, and what I really want is the best possible experience for my students.

I’m excited, though, because we’re on the cusp of changing everything. My son now carries to school a backpack filled with tens of pounds of static books and a ridiculous, boxy Thinkpad in an even more ridiculous carrying case. All this is about to be disrupted.

I remember being in law school and having a class discussion about technology prediction. Electronic books and videophones were held up as examples of technology that people always predicted would soon arrive but which never did. For ebooks, the claim was that there were fundamental reasons for their inferiority to paper books. I argued that this was only a matter of display technology and that the advantages of electronic processing, storage, and display would become overwhelming with time. I have been wrong about a great many things in my life, but that was not one of them.