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Why I got a Droid (and not an iPhone)

August 28, 2011

This article says it all, and then some. My main reason not to go Apple is that I care about intellectual property reform, and Apple’s model–make overpriced shiny toys that work best with each other and which let you do only what Apple wants you to do–seems like a step in the wrong direction. But the article points out several more that I think would suffice, including one that ties back to a previous post in an interesting way:

Indeed, Apple has marketed the iPad 2 in cultishly reverent advertisements as “magical“; it accomplishes the wondrous by inconceivable means all within a ravishing frame. Steve Jobs is a white wizard in wire rims who offers unto us, in exchange for the fruits of mere days or weeks of labour, mesmerising portals to a better, beautiful, more enchanted world where we can have our whim with the flick of a forefinger. It seems small to begrudge the great man the sum of our eager ritual offerings. So who gives a fig if he doesn’t shower his billions upon worthy causes, or write self-flagellating op-eds demanding to pay more in taxes? Never mind the patent thuggery. Never mind the miseries of Foxconn. An iPhone is a small enchanting comfort in a harsh, disenchanting world. We’ll make Mr Jobs even richer, if he gives us a chance.

If computers aren’t actually magical, marketing them like they are is escapist fantasy, and Apple is just treating us to bread and circuses. If they are in some sense magical, as I think they are, there is still a good and a bad way of letting them be so. I previously described the good way as allowing us to see into the computer, rather than forcing us to worship a black box. What I didn’t say then, but will say now, is why this matters. It has to do with where we direct our wonder (magic is about wonder, after all). If the computer is a black box, we direct our wonder either at the box, and think it possessed or alive, or at the creator of the box, and think him a magician or Dr. Frankenstein. If the computer is transparent, we can direct our wonder through the individual computer towards the ideal–is it not wonderful, for example, that simple logical rules can bring about a chess-playing machine able to beat the greatest human player?

Of course, Google is guilty of black-boxing its technology in the same way Apple is, but Google doesn’t try to make itself seem magic; their PR always emphasizes “the algorithm.” Even if that algorithm isn’t public knowledge, it’s good that they admit (and even take pride in the fact that) it’s there.

(I also find Apple’s lack of charitable activity disturbing, and like that Google does things like the Google Summer of Code, which supports the FLOSS community. But whether or not corporations have a moral obligation to give to charity is a topic for another day.)

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