Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Something Important That I Read

Some time back, a New Yorker book reviewer recommended a book called The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires, by Tim Wu. Wu is a professor at Columbia University. The book is largely a history of such communications businesses as AT&T and the television networks, but that last chapter deals largely with the Internet and technology businesses. It's a pretty well-written and interesting book, though with rather a few too many editing shortfalls, like his constant use of continuity devices that might be appropriate in a classroom, spread over a semester, but get tedious when crammed together in such numbers in the space of 300 pages.

But this isn't really a book review; this blog post is intended to reiterate a point he makes near the end of his book. I think it's important, and want as many people as possible to consider it, think about it, and, after deciding its merits for themselves, bring their actions into conformity with their own beliefs.

Writing about the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad, he says the following, which I quote in full:

Lest these examples be taken amiss, let me speak plainly: These are amazing machines. They make available an incredible variety of content — video, music, technology — with an intuitive interface that is a pleasure to use. But they are also machines whose soul is profoundly different from that of any other personal computer, let alone [Steve] Wozniak's Apple II. For all their glamour, these appliances are a betrayal of the inspiration behind that pathbreaking device, which was fundamentally meant to empower its users, not control them. That proposition may appeal to geeks more than to the average person, but anyone can appreciate the sentiment behind putting enormous power at the discretion of any individual. The owner of an iPod or iPad is in a fundamentally different position: his machine may have far more computational power than a PC of a decade ago, but it is designed for consumption, not creation. Or, as [Popular Science writer Tom] Conlon declared vehemently, "Once we replace the personal computer with a closed-platform device such as the iPad, we replace freedom, choice and the free market with oppression, censorship and monopoly.

(at pp. 292-93).

Think about it.

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