Vladimir Sedach

Have Emacs - Will Hack

October 14, 2011

The new digital divide

Kieran Healy wrote a wonderful examination of Jobs' role at Apple. There is one thing in Healy's essay that bears a closer look:

Jobs wanted people to love his products, take care to notice their craftsmanship, and be creative with them. They were supposed to help you make and do awesome things. But this love and attention to creativity was not extended to those involved in the manufacturing process.

The iPad, the iPhone, and the Apple App Store are not leading to a new age of digital freedom and creativity. They are creating a real digital divide.

The first personal computers shipped with Basic interpreters. When that stopped, you could still get a programming language implementation without too much trouble. But Apple goes out of its way to make the iPad and iPhone not programmable by anyone except a self-selected caste of "developers."

The awesome things you can do with the iPad have very real limits. Limits that are unnecessary, artificially imposed, and at core opposed to iPad's essence as a programmable computer.

Ellen Rose wrote about the infantilization of computer "users" in User Error: Resisting Computer Culture, but few products until the iPad have shown how literal this effect is. Consider Apple's marketing:

Apple advertisement of a small child
holding an iPad

Does the above image remind you of anything?

Texas Instruments 1984 Speak-and-Spell advertisement

Further evidence of how literal the infantilization has become is the infamous "fart app" - it is nothing but a direct throwback to the anal stage of Freud's development model.

Richard Stallman made a poorly received comment on Jobs' legacy upon news of the latter's death. I think the negative consequences of the iPad extend well beyond Apple's hostile and exploitative stance towards Free Software.