Over the Top

April 5, 2010 No comments Tags:

Joe Clark has a near-perfect short post that rejects the grandiose wailing of bloggers falling apart over the iPad. I’m tempted to quote the whole thing, but this is where he hits the bulls-eye:

…one’s inability to hack an iPad means precisely nothing. Nobody needs to program an iPad to enjoy using it, except those who have no capacity for enjoyment other than programming and complaining about same.
This was the weekend those of us with high standards lost their remaining residue of patience for ideologues who hyperbolize about open systems without actually creating something people want to use.

Amen. That treat was all the more enjoyable after finding it especially hard to read Cory Doctorow’s over the top rant against the iPad

There are few people better informed and spoken than Cory when it comes to the problematic intersection of copyright law and digital rights. But his weekend rant foregoes a lot of logic and seems to seethe anger, something I’m not used to seeing in his writing. He even dips into the rhetorical war paint usually worn by the likes of Sarah Palin:

I remember the early days of the web — and the last days of CD ROM — when there was this mainstream consensus that the web and PCs were too durned geeky and difficult and unpredictable for “my mom” (it’s amazing how many tech people have an incredibly low opinion of their mothers).

Complete with folksy language, he actually asserts that not caring about deep level access to the iPad means you’re against moms. (An f-bomb frothing Jeff Jarvis also employs this slimy framing, only bringing in Grandma to be his prop). Not too classy, but we say things when we’re angry.

You know, though, I also remember the CD ROM days. Oh, how fondly I recall guessing at video settings on a Windows 3.11 machine for hours to get movies to play. The child-like wonder in my eyes as I had the joy of tinkering forced onto me by trying to make something inadequate work as advertised. The good ol’ days.

Power Struggle

There are real reasons to revolt. The iPad isn’t one of them

It’s too bad the post is smothered in Doctorow’s demands that the technology world follow his ideals, because buried in there are good points about re-sale rights of content. In the end I couldn’t stomach the underlying requirement of the self-annointed right to tinker:

That the vast majority of users must tolerate and adapt to the complexities required to give as much access as possible to the extreme minority who have the knowledge and skill to handle deep level access.

The spectacle of a rant turns to sad when we see how wrong these critics are: the iPad is hackable, but the catch is that you have to pass a skill-testing question called Jailbreaking. Early adopters passed this test within 24hrs of the iPad’s release this weekend. These people are truer hackers than those that Doctorow argues for, who seem to need a red carpet and latté waiting for them when they arrive. Maybe they will want to hack it, maybe not. The important thing is that Apple and its customers shoulder the cost for their opportunity to tinker.

Fantasy and Reality

When I read these iPad oh noes! posts I feel an echo of technology in the Star Wars movies: everything is exposed and always in a state of partial disassembly; doors snap open and closed with unforgiving speed, catwalks around control panels have no safety railings, and absolutely everything is open enough for R2 to hack into. I’m not sure I’d want to live in that world, though I love watching it.

A technology made by a for-profit corporation is no place to look for champions of your political rights or ideals: that’s a recipe for ongoing frustration and disappointment. If he wants to really make the course of politics and law better, he should get into politics and law, and stop using the language of political rights as a proxy to getting his way with a product.

What I really hope Cory and others realize is that completely open technologies are not a zero-sum game. Apple has not taken away any hackable netbook, has not outlawed Linux and has not prevented anyone from coming up with alternatives to their tablet, which Android is poised to do at some point. I wonder if the real anger is that people actually like Apple’s decisions in this respect, and not the philosophical ideals that Cory and others take to heart.

Meanwhile, creativity and innovation seem the order of the day in the App Store, as demonstrated in a similarly fed up post by Giles Bowkett. But what I really look forward to seeing is people who have long felt alienated by computers and the geeks they need to save them, pick up something new and use it with ease. You know, the great experience, the one we all want to deliver. That’s the standard I’m aiming for and measuring by.

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