Monday, October 18, 2010

Learning Blog #6 The iPhone as a '74 Ford LTD

"The internet is too open. People now want an internet that is more stable, the same way they want an automobile or refrigerator or hair dryer that's stable. When people have the choice of an appliance that behaves nicely like the iPhone, they'll move to that. I'm afraid we'll lose the innovation and "generativity" of the internet." Jonathan Zittrain

 I would agree with Zittrain--of course people want stable "appliances that behave nicely like the iPhone". I would disagree that this "locked-down" proprietary internet toaster signal the death of the creative internet. 

A better metaphor than "internet as appliance" might be "internet as automobile". Think about how the car has evolved over the last 80 years. Expensive toy for hobbyists that would never replace horse and buggy, to something that has become commonplace and easy to use. Cars in this deacde are more "locked down" than 2010 models. When I compare my first cars ('74 Ford LTD, '76 Gran Torino, '73 Cougar, '68 Ford Galaxie) my stepfather the mechanic was forever gapping the spark plugs, rebuilding the alternator, fixing the catalytic--I swore off car ownership for almost 20 years. I just wanted something that "worked." I didn't want to read the repair manual or crawl under the car. I just wanted it to start up and go. And when it doesn't I have AAA on speed dial. So yes those 70's model cars were great for gearheads, more open, as opposed to today's models that need to be taken to a dealer to decode error messages. Car repair is harder for the Do-It-Yourself, the tradeoff is worth it for those who want a reliable stable car that will start and go!
Just like I want a stable car, my mom would like a stable internet. She wants it just to "work". Turn it on and there is email, there's my pictures, an always-on internet connection. She wants a standard icon, and a desktop that doesn't change so she can find everything. She wants to know that there is a giant manual she can read, (even if she never consults it). An iPad would be perfect for her. Meh, the touch keyboard might driver her bonkers though.
But I am a total gearhead when it comes to my technology. I'm forever trying out new applications, new versions of operating systems, the pre-beta, alpha release. Before grad school that is--I had the time to wade through bugzilla and try and find a solution to why and what broke in this latest patch. I only started doing this geek thing when Apple released the OS X. I had tried Unix before, and just did not get it--but the visual nature of OS X, made it so I was not starting at a blinking cursor, but could actually *do* something. So yes Apple isn't free or open-source, but gives enough of a safe walled garden so applications actually "work". You want a challenge, open up terminal download cpan and give perl a whirl. Get VMWare and download the many variations of Linux. People are still innovating, and generating. 250,000 apps have been created for the iPod. That hardly means innovation is dead. If that is too limited, get an Android phone. Or jailbreak your iPhone. 

One of my favorite magazines (yes I still get it in print) is Make that proves the that while most manufacturers are locking down their products with "no user serviceable parts" creative people still find a way to tinker, solder, bend, and weld stuff to make it more useful and more unique. The Do-It-Yourself ethos is still alive, and Tha Man will not control the internet.

My "aha" moment is happening with trying to write my research paper. My topic keeps morphing, but I am zeroing in on "Next Generation" OPACS and how to make them suck less. And I am running up against this "it has to just work and be stable" with me wanting to put in all the kewlest eye-candy and widgets. Balance balance.

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