I Digitally Swear ...

June 05, 2014

When Suzi LeVine on Monday took her oath of office to be the new U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland she thought she would follow the tradition of most other national figures and swear in on the U.S. Constitution. But she did not really do it that way. LeVine instead swore in on a Kindle Touch that had a digital version of the Constitution on the screen. Even as someone who enjoys reading books on my Kindle, I find that decision weird. Although she is believed to be the first national figure to take such an approach, some local officials previously swore in on e-readers. The strangest case might be when some New Jersey firefighters could not find a copy of a Bible so they instead swore in on an iPad with a version of the Bible on the screen. Such symbolism seems quite weak. They apparently wanted to swear in on a Bible to show the importance of the occasion (which is only meaningful if you take the Bible seriously) but no one actually had a print copy of the Bible around (which would not suggest it is being taken seriously). The symbolism of swearing in on pixels seems to be a bad copy - or what philosopher Jean Baudrillard called a "simulacrum" - of an ancient tradition, and it shows we have lost touch with reality. Can an oath be taken seriously in such a postmodern context? Perhaps we should take the advice of Jesus and forgo oaths - Kindle or otherwise.