The Problem With Perfect But Closed


Friday, 6.09am

Sheffield, U.K.

Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected. – Steve Jobs

I watched Steve Jobs again yesterday, a biopic about the mercurial co-founder of Apple and his uncompromising approach to products.

Was he a visionary or was he so myopic that he created a “reality distortion field” and was eventually just lucky that magic happened?

The tension between his way of thinking and other ways of thinking is shown by the confrontations with his co-founder Steve Wozniak.

Jobs wanted end-to-end control over his product – everything a customer could do was controlled by him.

Wozniak wanted an open system, one that hobbyists and tinkerers could work with, play with and extend.

Jobs believed he was right – an unshakable faith in his vision.

That failed and failed until the iMac – which brought the company back.

Wozniak maintained the status quo, but innovation slowed down and others caught up, nearly driving Apple into bankruptcy, until Jobs returned.

Jobs was a master showperson – he knew how to work the press and a crowd.

Jobs believed that the interface mattered, what the customer saw and felt was crucial.

Computers had to be friendly, say “Hello!” with a smile.

They also had to be simple – you needed to be able to use them by pointing and pressing.

Jobs was right – his relentless attention to detail, pursuit of visual Zen, and uncompromising approach to product development has created one of the most profitable companies out there.

It has generations of loyal users who will defend it against all comers.

And you have to respect that.

But I am not sure that Jobs really made the world better.

In the biopic he compares the computer to a bicycle for the mind, a device that turns an inefficient organism like a human into the most efficient organism on earth.

But have modern computers really made us more efficient?

Or have they turned into prisons?

I lean towards the latter.

Computing has just as much potential to be a mechanism of control as it is a tool for liberation.

I recommend buying Apple products to old people and people who don’t really use technology because it’s simple and controlled and won’t be a hassle.

Some people, often designers, swear that they only use Apple products because they are the fastest and best – and are willing to pay the price for that power and functionality and don’t mind being locked into an Apple ecosystem.

That’s ok too.

But the majority of people who buy a Windows or Apple machine or are given them by their organisations will experience a lack of freedom and imposition of coercive control – because that’s the way things are.

Corporations have to secure themselves in a dangerous digital world – that’s just the rational thing to do.

Instead of being chained to your machine or desk, you’re now chained to your computer.

Wozniak’s tribe are the truly free people, the ones that can open and play with the technology.

They are the ones that really get the opportunity to get on the road and ride.

And that, in the end, is the single biggest failure of the computing revolution.

A machine with the potential to liberate our minds is now used mostly for shopping and glorified typewriting.

But there is hope – hobbyists and tinkerers and people with an urge for freedom can get what they need from a thriving world of Free Software.

I’m an associate member – there aren’t that many really and the FSF budget is tiny.

It’s a rounding error on Apple’s numbers.

But I would argue that the Free Software Foundation (FSF) has done more to really liberate humanity’s potential than any other organisation.

Closed systems make you money.

Open ones change the world.


Karthik Suresh

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