I’ll Take Medium Tech, Thanks…

Despite a lifetime fascination with technology, I am what I would consider a below-average consumer of computers, electronics, and digital media. With very few exceptions, I am not one to jump on the newest technological breakthrough or latest, greatest, thing being hyped to high heaven, creating lines of overly eager consumers at the temples of the First Church of My Stuff.

My computer is about eight years old. I’ve done a few upgrades to it, and it remains a reliable piece of equipment. I have a 6 year old laptop. The hard drive just crashed. I will use an inexpensive replacement to run a Linux-based operating system called Ubuntu on it. This will give me an Internet terminal, which could really be useful if I ever get an HDTV that I can hook it up to. With a wireless keyboard and mouse, it could make for some interesting web surfing. As for computing on the move, I will probably invest in a netbook down the road.

I have analog TV’s – 3 of them. The newest is 5 years old. One of them is hooked up to digital cable. The picture from the HDTV channels on Bresnan looks just fine on it, and I appreciate the widescreen aspect. This suits me fine right now.

New technologies and capabilities need to flesh out all of the bugs of their first production version. No amount of field beta testing will bring out every glitch that a curious user can find. For these and lots of other reasons, I’m not particularly excited about the latest offering from Apple, the iPad.

My son has an iPhone and a MacBook Pro. He is into graphics, music, and video, and there is no better platform to manage multimedia than Apple’s. What is disturbing is the attitude of this manufacturer toward innovation, as demonstrated by the limitations Apple has placed on content, access, and most importantly, tinkering with the iPod, iPhone, and now the iPad.

This inflexible and seemingly illogical control game has manifested itself in earnest this week. The most visible gaffe was the revelation that Apple had rejected a program for its App store submitted by online cartoon artist Mark Fiore. Apple’s reasoning for this was a clause in its Developer Program License Agreement, which stated that applications could not “contain materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, sounds, etc.) that in Apple’s reasonable judgement may be found objectionable, for example, materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory.”

This came to additional light because this week Mr. Fiore won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning, for his work in the online presence of the San Francisco Chronicle. Apple changed it’s tune pretty quickly, asking Mr. Fiore to resubmit his app, NewsToons, for consideration. Other Apple edicts about content have caused considerable concern among artists, publishers, and online freedom groups.

This is far from being the only affront to online creativity that Apple has foisted on the global computing community. Apple products continue to be incompatible with Adobe Flash, a suite of applications that aid in software development, not to mention supporting the bulk of online video content. The sleek, attractive lines of these devices conceal Apple’s desire to prevent any intrusion into its hardware for any purpose.

This also has some ominous consequences for those in the print media that see devices like the iPad as part of their future. The Columbia Journalism Review issued a warning this week as well:

The iPad is the most exciting opportunity for the media in many years. But if the press is ceding gatekeeper status, even if it’s only nominally, over its speech, then it is making a dangerous mistake. Unless Apple explicitly gives the press complete control over its ability to publish what it sees fit, the news media needs to yank its apps in protest.

There are many writing out there who are much more in touch with these debates than I am. An excellent example is the Free Press summary of the issues, as well as an extremely thoughtful piece on the concept of generativity, or “a system’s capacity to produce unanticipated change through unfiltered contributions from broad and varied audiences”.

This has led me to yet another book to put on my list; The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It by Jonathan Zittrain. Some introductory language from the website states the problem all too well:

IPods, iPhones, Xboxes, and TiVos represent the first wave of Internet-centered products that can’t be easily modified by anyone except their vendors or selected partners. These “tethered appliances” have already been used in remarkable but little-known ways: car GPS systems have been reconfigured at the demand of law enforcement to eavesdrop on the occupants at all times, and digital video recorders have been ordered to self-destruct thanks to a lawsuit against the manufacturer thousands of miles away…As tethered appliances and applications eclipse the PC, the very nature of the Internet—its “generativity,” or innovative character—is at risk.

As a journeyman user and below-average consumer who strives to inform himself and others about these things, aside from forums like this blog the only other way I know of to speak my mind is through my wallet.

So I will say with some confidence that I will not spend one dime on an Apple product or service until they loosen up.

It’s starting to sound like Tron; the Master Control Program vs. the Users. I guess I’m kind of glad there’s a sequel due out this year.

Have a good weekend.

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