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Cory is wrong, Nick is right

Nick Sweeney is (1) one of the cleverest and most astute people I know and (2) doesn’t post anywhere near often enough. Fact Number Two is probably connected to Fact Number One.

In the comments to his post on the iPad, which you should go read right now, he more ably puts the argument against Cory’s anti-iPad screed than I possibly could:

“I am so over the idealistic belief that every computer user is a latent hacker-maker-coder who just lacks the right tools. I am so over the idea that access to the cornucopia of creative and insightful and useful stuff that’s available online requires either a boatload of foundational computing skills or extensive hand-holding. While I have no objections to those battles being fought out in the computing space I inhabit, I am personally done with this guild-mentality shit.”

And then, as if that wasn’t enough, he adds this:

“What particularly annoyed me [about Cory’s post] was his image of a purported user as a passive, bloated ‘consumer’, as if the only makers that matter are the ones assembling crochet-covered Arduino-powered companion cubes to sell on Etsy. Well, bollocks to that.”

I argued with Cory about this on Twitter earlier, bailing out mainly in deference to the fact that I know Alice would tell the pair of us off for converting her Twitter stream into a slanging match.

But before I let Cory have the last word, it became pretty apparent to me that Cory’s point conflates creativity with coding, and prizes hacking over any other kind of creativity. So what if the iPad enables more people to do more creative things – to write, to paint, to communicate, to play with pictures, to learn. None of that matters, because you can’t write code for it (unless you pay Apple $99 and accept the hegemony of the App Store).

This just seems wrong to me. It places the primacy on geek-creativity, at the expense of every other kind. That is a remarkably narrow world view.

My position is the same as Nick’s, which he ably-explains:

“If the iPad truly abstracts away the whole ‘using a computer’ bit of using a computer, it will make me very happy. If another device comes along that does the same thing without DRM or developer lock-in, then like Andre I’ll embrace it. (Before anyone chips in: no, the Archos is not that device.) If that kind of lock-in comes to OS X proper, I’ll resent it, resist it and reject it. But it’s been nearly 30 years since I received my first home computer, and it’s about time everyone else got to play without it requiring informal training, monthly VNC sessions, and every family gathering turning into onsite tech support.”

Until the open-platform people step up to the plate and make an open machine that matches this, I, too, will be using an iPad.

The ball is in their court.

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  • http://www.cathygellis.com Cathy

    I’m not sure Cory conflates coding with creativity, but even if he does, I don’t think that affects his point. The inability to code is really just a symptom of the greater problem, which is that creativity is constrained by (as you put it) the Apple hegemony.

    True, the Apple hegemony does offer quite an expansive playground for creators to play. But Cory’s caution, I think quite reasonably, is that this playground is nonetheless ultimately finite — indeed much more finite than any non-proprietary playground would be — and that, overall, it is not a good thing for people to blithely accept the limits on creativity that Apple puts upon us. Needing Apple’s permission to either use or develop for its products as fully as our imaginations allow puts us all in a place of dependency upon this company. And surely, no matter how noble any company is, that kind of dependency is something we should never willingly tolerate.

  • Ian Betteridge

    What creativity is constrained, though? My ability to write? To draw? To communicate? The only creativity that’s constrained is coding – and even that isn’t forbidden, just limited.

    *All* playgrounds are finite. On my Mac, I can’t run Linux apps – unless someone kindly ports them. I’m dependent on third parties to make those things happen, whether that third party is a kindly geek, or Apple.

    Incidentally, I’m not sure what you mean by “Needing Apple’s permission to either use or develop …” I don’t need Apple’s permission to use its products, any more than I need Fords’ permission to use its products. Unless, of course, you mean they don’t give me them for free, and I need to “buy” permission. In which case… well, that’s kind of silly as an argument, don’t you think?

  • http://www.cathygellis.com Cathy

    No, I mean you can only buy what they let you buy.

    We’re not going to agree about playgrounds being finite. Not being able to run Linux apps is not the same thing — unless the reason you can’t is because Apple has locked down its hardware or software in a way that would forever preclude a solution. At least in an open system you could code around the problem and make something work. Not so when the company controls everything about the product.

  • Ian Betteridge

    “Not being able to run Linux apps is not the same thing”

    Oh, but on a practical level, it is. And that’s the key difference between Cory’s position (and yours) and mine. To wit:

    “At least in an open system you could code around the problem and make something work.”

    No, *I* couldn’t – and neither could 99.9% of human beings. To all intents and purposes, I am locked out of that as totally as I am under what you’re characterising as the Apple way, because coding is a skill that I don’t have and don’t have the time to master to the degree that would be required.

    I’m in the same position as a serf in the middle ages. Sure, I *could* learn Latin and read the Bible, breaking the power of the priests. But in practical terms, I can’t do that – I need someone to stand up and say “Hang on, the Bible could be everyone’s if we translated it into English…”

    Apple is translating computing into English, while the open systems priests are insisting I should learn Latin – and if I don’t, it’s my fault.

  • http://www.cathygellis.com Cathy

    I’m not saying there’s no value in Apple translating the Bible into English. In and of itself there’s no problem with enlisting 3rd parties to help do what would be infeasible to do yourself. But I think Apple more analogizes to the church dictating that it will be THEIR bible that is used, and no one else’s. Whereas the open systems are more like churches that would either let you learn Latin to access the bible yourself directly, or find another 3rd party to provide you with an English translation you like better.

    Overall, the problem with Apple is that by controlling the infrastructure so tightly, it also ends up controlling the content.

  • Mark

    Controlling the content is precisely what Apple should be doing. What’s wrong with peace of mind from a device that isn’t ‘open’ to a bunch of miscreants, hell bent on creating dodgy apps or mal/adware trying to sell me pills to enhance my manhood.

    Apple created the device, created the OS, created the infrastructure for delivering apps, gave access to the SDK for anyone, literally ANYone to develop their own apps and yet people think they have some holier than thou right to put out any old tat!

    Is eBay so different? Are any number of other companies out there so different? No. There is just an element out there who want to have their cake, swap out the ingredients for what they think tastes better, eat it and give a big FU to anyone who won’t let then stomp their feet.

    And in direct response to the above comment, which church doesn’t dictate that THEIR bible is used?

  • http://nicksweeney.com nick s

    Thanks, Ian: I’ll happily accept your inference at the top.

    I’d possibly go with a different analogy. The tradesmans’ subscription libraries of the 1700s underpinned the industrial revolution. The public libraries of the late 1800s were the catalyst for the labour movement. Both operated under what you might call restrictive access content models: you either paid to get in, or coughed up if you brought your books back late. They didn’t work out too badly.

    I’m happy to grant Cory’s point that it’s important to push against the limits of walled gardens in both hardware and software, but I now think it’s more important to push against the walls of accessibility.

  • http://www.technovia.co.uk Ian Betteridge

    The inference, of course, being that while the rest of us chatter about anything, you glide in with a brilliant post and leave us all in the dust :)

    And you always have the best historical references, too: thank you.

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  • http://www.cathygellis.com Cathy

    “I now think it’s more important to push against the walls of accessibility.”

    That’s a fair point, but I don’t think it requires such a closed, proprietary solution. The MacOS generally is regarded as quite good at making computing accessible, yet it’s open.

    As for the idea that “[c]ontrolling the content is precisely what Apple should be doing,” it raises a practical problem: if it were possible to have an unlimited number of tech providers, some who provided open solutions and some who could provide closed, people could choose what they preferred. But that’s not the way the ecosystem works, and Apple has just swallowed up a huge portion of the market that will no longer be able to afford an open solution, thus making it less likely that an appropriate selection of more open devices will ever come to exist.

    Furthermore, even for people who’d like closed solutions, surely greater scrutiny is needed to figure out who’s worthy of your trust to filter your content. Is Apple really who you’d want? The fact that they make your device AND unilaterally control the content you can get on it would seem to belie trustworthiness. In any case, there might be any number of reasons of why you’d prefer a different 3rd party to provide filters. Maybe even several 3rd parties. But with the iPad Apple inescapably trumps them all.

  • http://blog.geeklawyer.org geeklawyer

    “What particularly annoyed me [about Cory’s post] was his image of a purported user as a passive, bloated ‘consumer’, as if the only makers that matter are the ones assembling crochet-covered Arduino-powered companion cubes to sell on Etsy. Well, bollocks to that.”
    This is about as uninsightful a comment as it is possible to make. If it were an open system the Arduino wielding hobbyist is enabling options for the user which he can choose and not be handcuffed to the choices of Apple. Sweeny’s Job’s pandering reflects the Apple Stockholm syndrome of self-protective ex post facto rationalisation that many feel necessary to engage in after they have sold out.

    Although Stalmanite Free-software loons wouldn’t accept it there is a perfectly good aceptable and justifiable reasons for writing closed source software and being locked into proprietary system: but it’s a business decision not a moral one. If you choose to follow Jobs down that path don’t tell me it’s for the salvation of my soul; don’t p**s in my ear and then tell me it’s raining.

    Yes, Apple does good stuff but I would prefer an ecosystem where I can create stuff or others can for me if I but not Apple choose that option. these are not conflicting options – it is not one of: Apple controls it or it is anarchy. That’s a straw man argument.

    Apple makes great hardware & writes some really nice software, as a Macbook Pro/MacPro and 3GS owner, I can accept this. Apple also write some dire software for which there needs to be alternatives. Safari and Mail on the 3GS are hopelessly inept.

    As a capitalist I’d like options: the absence of them is about market control and abuse of a monopoly position for Apple strategic corporate interests: dont delude yourself into thinking it’s about a holistic evangelical Jobs Experience™.

  • http://www.technovia.co.uk Ian Betteridge

    “I would prefer an ecosystem where I can create stuff or others can for me.”

    Are you a coder? If not, you can’t create “stuff”. And if you pay someone to do something unique to you, you don’t need Apple’s permission to deploy it. If you want to know why that’s true, read up on how developing for the iPhone works.

    (I’m not being awkward when I say that, by the way – I’m mobile, so no time for long explanations. Will respond more later.)

  • http://www.technollama.co.uk/ Andres

    I agree with GL.

    I am not a hacker. I have installed Linux on my laptop, and I am keen on working from time to time under the hood. I am also a Mac and iPod owner, but I have decided to draw a line in the sand with the iPad.

    Apple has made a clear choice here, one that is telling me that if I want the nice and shiny gadget, I only can choose what they offer me, and I must use their store. That is fine, many people will think it is a fair trade-off, but stop saying it is the second coming, because it ain’t. It is a gated community. I will choose to stay out, not because I am a hacker, but because I do prize my freedom to choose.

    I’ll give you an example. I wanted to install Songbird on my PC, it is open source, it looks great, and it offers a very nice range of addons. But I cannot use it to sync to my iPod Touch, Apple has locked me into iTunes, which I hate.

    Interoperability is not a dirty word. Those who want to praise the iPad and what a lovely device it is, go ahead. But those of us who choose willingly not to go that route are not being reactionary. I do agree that Cory should not be telling people what to do, but I sort of understand. The Apple fanboy noise is starting to get a bit nauseating.

  • http://www.technovia.co.uk Ian Betteridge

    The answer is simple, then: open source developers need to step up to the plate and prove that a safe, reliable, easy to use touch platform can be created.

    Until then, this debate is pointless. Personally, I doubt that any such system can be created, given what I know of open source (which is probably a lot more than you think).

    Apple has created something groundbreaking, by all accounts. Open source advocates either need to prove they can do the same, or stop complaining.

  • http://www.technovia.co.uk Ian Betteridge

    (Apols for the fragmented comments – posting from iPhone)

    “If it were an open system the Arduino wielding hobbyist is enabling options for the user which he can choose and not be handcuffed to the choices of Apple”

    This is like insisting every car has manual gear shift, so that people have the “freedom” to use it.

  • http://www.cathygellis.com Cathy

    “Apple has created something groundbreaking, by all accounts.”

    In many ways, yes. But it’s not nearly as ground-breaking as it could be if the collective inspiration of a world of users and developers could make it reach its full potential.

  • http://www.technovia.co.uk Ian Betteridge

    You don’t mean “users and developers”. You mean “developers”. People who aren’t developers have plenty of tools for creativity.

    And as I said, when the open computing movement proves it’s chops by making something better, come back and tell me about it.

  • http://nicksweeney.com nick s

    geeklawyer: as someone who was cross-compiling C libraries on a Red Hat system fifteen years ago, I don’t feel any particular need to give the casual insults more than a shrug; having picked out the argument from sloganeering, I remain unconvinced that it’s relevant to my wider point.

    Since you’re the second to toss the phrase ‘Stockholm syndrome’ in my direction: the assumption that looking up jam recipes or gardening tips on the web should require extensive foundational computing skills and ongoing maintenance duties — or, to put it the other way, ‘if you can’t break it, it’s not really a computer’ — seems to fit that definition equally well, and that will remain the case until the critics of developer lock-in come up with something that doesn’t lock out a much larger class of users.

  • http://www.technollama.co.uk/ Andres

    Re No.13

    I do not think that it is a binary choice between open source devices and Apple, that is what I think is being completely missed in this debate.

    The choice is between interoperability and lock-ins. Interoperability need not be open source, it used to be the norm until Apple started going the lock-in way. I will wait until I can find a device that delivers interoperability. There are various candidates out there already, my hopes are on the Ink Adam.

  • http://www.technovia.co.uk Ian Betteridge

    But Andres, where are the lock-ins on the iPad?

    Your contacts, calendar, and notes can be easily exported. Music? DRM-free, if you wish. Ditto video (you don’t *have* to buy from the iTunes Store). You can export from iWork to other file formats easily enough. Or don’t use iWork.

    If you mean lock-ins for applications… how is there any more lock-in than on the Mac, or any other platform where the source code for apps is closed?

    If you mean method of distribution – yes, there’s a single source there. Although, of course, if you want to develop something for yourself (and 99 of your friends) you can use ad hoc distribution to do so. The iPhone SDK is free to download (you only need to be a registered developer to distribute via iTunes).

    But there’s no more, or less, interoperability between Android (say) and iPhone than there is between Mac and Windows, or Mac and Linux, or Linux and Windows.

  • http://www.technovia.co.uk Ian Betteridge

    Oh, and one final thing to note: On phones, some US carriers are now supplying Android phones which can’t be used with apps which don’t come from Google’s store. Does that mean Android isn’t open?

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  • http://www.kickingpebbles.net nina

    The world 20 years ago had the IBM Mainframe, WANG terminals, and the Apple ][+

    The world today has the gnarliest spectrum of technologies available… and on opposite ends of this spectrum, Arduino & the iPad; polar opposites, suiting polar opposite interests. I love and make things with Arduino, my mom can use & love and discover a cornucopia of new things thru the iPad.

    I could make things for the iPad if I felt like it, but I don’t- and I have the money to buy one, but I’m not going to- because I just think it’s silly to buy things I don’t “need.” Unless it’s amazing shoes. I digress.

    I appreciate Cory so, so much for throwing his point of view into the whirlwind of hypnotic ga-ga over the iPad. I think our consumerist world needs it, frankly, to not embrace wholeheartedly… but to just chew on and think about. For that Cory, thank you so much.

    The world is a better place from the options before us. Arduino and other hackable hardware will forever keep the geeks & hackers & makers creatively churning, and the iPad and it’s brethren will continue to push technology further into full-cultural ubiquity, and by being so “visionary” and weird, it will also open doors for cultural permeation of technology into the mainstream in unexpected ways and with unexpected emotional needs met that otherwise would have gone un-tapped (the iPhone and iPod have both done this in spades).

    Finally- as a designer- what Steve Jobs has done through being the fanatical asshole that he is, for raising the bar on what expectations of industrial design innovation needs to be via pushing product design as a whole, a million miles farther than any other hardware manufacturer could- thank you.

    I hate DRM. I hate the publishing “business model” Apple operates on now and see it as being on par with McDonalds making more money from owning land that it leases to franchisees & farmers.

    The industry has exited it’s utopian beginnings, and is now in it’s angry teenage years- let’s all just get over it, and embrace the geeks, freaks, cheerleaders, fat kids, gawky kids, etc., and just continue to press on as intelligently as possible. M’kay?

  • http://www.technovia.co.uk Ian Betteridge

    Nina – I couldn’t agree more.

  • http://www.chrisdymond.com Chris Dymond

    I agree with Ian and Nick (and also with some of the arguments Jaroen Lanier makes although not all of them), despite long advocating openness over Zittrain’s ‘non-generative platforms’ and spending countless hours over the years explaining how to use the internet and its key services to ‘lay-people’ with some success.

    A quick ‘first day back a t work after Easter’ breakdown of my rationale goes a bit like this:

    – The core assumption is that innovation and free creativity is an ultimate good.
    – This requires open platforms where people can create and distribute whatever they like.
    – Open platforms are open to abuse and require increased cognitive load on behalf of the user to distinguish the trustworthy from the insidiuos.
    – The more the world connects the higher the risk of and damage caused by identity and data theft.
    – Users need to learn how to protect themselves in this environment as well as all the detail about each affordance granted by a new service and how, if at all, they interoperate.
    – Learning requires confidence and exploration.
    – Users are frightend to do so bacause they can make consequential mistakes. (Do not underestimate the acute feelings of anxiety and guilt when someone is told they have compromised a password or allowed a virus to be installed…)
    – This fact is exluding an enormous number of people who simply want to participate, connect and communicate. (I strongly suspect far more than are excluded by physical disability, although I have no authoritative figures).
    – The advocates of openness seem to have no coherent provision for these people.
    – Apple does.

    The true prize is not innovation, but collective intelligence. Until the vast majority can participate, innovation will be confined to a small elite of people who have sufficient knowledge to create services. In effect the need to allow the free creation of services is masking the affordance to engage in other kinds of creation (the writing, painting, communicating, learning that Ian talks about).

    I personally do not use Apple devices. But whenever a non-geek friend or family member asks my advice about devices to buy, I suggest they pay the extra for an Apple device as it is a price worth paying to no longer live in fear.

    There will be a two-tier landscape because the desires for each are passionate, valid and well distributed. I hope the demarcation between them, and the behaviours that demarkation engenders, are productive to us all.

  • http://www.chrisdymond.com Chris Dymond

    PS: Just to clarify something: in the paragraph that starts “The true prize is not innovation…”, I neglected to acknowledge the large number of ‘semi-literate’ people (i.e. people who use the internet but do not have the knowledge to code new services) but who do participate. These people make the network worth participating in, and there are loads of them. But nowhere near everyone.

    PPS: Thanks Ian, Nick and everyone who is commenting for making this is a really interesting and high-quality discussion! :-)

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