I picked up Surviving Justice at Verso’s $1 ebook sale in late July. The book documents the experiences of many wrongly convicted Americans, capturing their experiences in prison and how they often remain traumatized long after years/decades in prison; eventual exoneration doesn’t make up for anything.
(I could only read a few accounts at a time. One of my friends spent more than a year in prison for crimes she did not commit, having exhausted all her savings fighting charges, and yet seemed to have managed pretty okay upon release. With each account I read in Surviving Justice, my heart sank deeper and deeper as I realized/remembered that showing strong doesn’t mean you’re not dying inside.)
One of the appendices gives a brief description of some of the most common ways innocent Americans end up in prison, from prosecutorial and police misconduct to snitches to bad science. I wish that appendix were mandatory reading for every American, because doing so would help destroy any doubt that a system elevating some above others–beyond responsibility, accountability, reproach–is a system that kills some and harms many others.
Dave Eggers was one of the book’s editors. I looked him up and found a novel, The Circle, that seemed like it might pretty well capture my myriad concerns about technology, and how relatively affluent Americans perceive it. The wait list was so long that I ended up buying my own copy.
Far more than Franklin Foer’s non-fiction World Without Mind, The Circle captured the terrifying long-term prospects when the collective ignores assessment of technological costs while instead focusing on frivolous short-term benefits. Like The Hate U Give, it’s an example of how much more truth can sometimes be made comprehensible in fiction than non-fiction form. Fiction can allow us readers to travel places we mightn’t dare go with non-fiction, fearing the repercussions to our worldview (and sense of safety).
The Circle ends up being a perfect reflection of actually asking Neil Postman’s six questions about technology. As noted in my post “Costs masquerading as conveniences,”
With each page I read now, whether fiction or non-fiction, I understand there is no such thing as an unadulterated win for everyone. With every technological change, some win and some lose. That people of comparative means cannot see the losers doesn’t mean they aren’t out there, beyond line of sight.
Having read one Eggers book related to imprisonment, I find the other–though fiction–reads virtually as an extension. I am once again left wondering: What will it take to foster a technological cost-benefit analysis mindset in people accustomed to thinking in benefit-benefit analyses?
This isn’t an idle, abstract question. As I’ve written in at least a dozen posts across blogs now, what adults choose to see or not to see shapes the world we’re leaving for our children and grandchildren. The runway shrinks and so, this morning, I find myself wishing that more people would read either of the Eggers books I mention here.