April 2, 2010

"[S]omething the size of a baby hippo, the color of a week-old boiled potato, that lives by itself, in the dark, in a double-wide on the outskirts of Topeka."

"It's covered with eyes and it sweats constantly. The sweat runs into those eyes and makes them sting. It has no mouth... no genitals, and can only express its mute extremes of murderous rage and infantile desire by changing the channels on a universal remote."

Cory Doctorow parlays a William Gibson quote
— defining the consumer — in service of his argument against buying an iPad. Me, I've reserved an iPad for pick-up tomorrow. But then "Apple's model customer is that same stupid stereotype of a technophobic, timid, scatterbrained mother as appears in a billion renditions of 'that's too complicated for my mom'...."

Now, now, you boys. Moms may not care about fiddling with the inner workings of technological devices, but that doesn't mean we're not mentally sharp. And — mom-o-phobia aside for a second —  in general, smart people are not interested in paying attention to computer stuff. We just want tools to get to and engage in the things we're interested in. Maybe, you're missing that because computers happen to be one of the things you're interested in.

34 comments:

LakeLevel said...

Apple iPhone,iPod,iPad are closed systems, meaning you can't put any program on there that's not approved by Apple. You can't even experience Flash apps on the internet. This may or may not be a good thing, but this model is here to stay. Mostly because it's just easier not to have to deal with the messyness of the internet and programming freedom. Your nanny named Apple is here to look after you

Shahid said...

I read his treatment earlier to see if there was something substantive to his argument besides the familiar geek-ideological one of: "My device! How dare you tell me how to run it?"

Since I design software systems for a living, you might expect I may have more sympathy for the view. Perhaps I can muster a smidgeon, but I have come to believe that view has done more to retard the real improvement of personal and productivity software than maybe anything else in the industry.

"It's the usability, stupid!" should be the motto, but instead Doctorow spends/builds his geek cred on this rant, and too many so-called geeks take him seriously.

It's not a bad thing when the device can be picked up by a three year old or a 70-year old and they can figure out how to work it after a few minutes.

Shahid said...

I should add... for those who do want fuller control of the device, there will likely be a jailbreak within a month that will let them do just that. Or they should just wait for one of several Android-based tablets which should be coming around in a few months.

lewsar said...

my understanding that only digital media may be displayed and that the kindle iphone app will not run on the ipad.

these two things are dealbreakers, so no ipad for me.

looks like an interesting device nonetheless.

David said...

The Mom I'm married to can fix her computer and other electronic devices in a jiffy. She has me do it. I feel heroic, she feels appreciated, we both go happily forward.

jeff said...

Thought that was description of Fred out at the Phelps compound when he is out of the public eye and takes off his disguise. Kinda like on V.

Aridog said...

Ann said: "...smart people are not interested in paying attention to computer stuff. We just want tools to get to and engage in the things we're interested in..."
Pardon me, but I am sooo stealing that line for use with the equipment geeks, who go all gear esoteric, when all I'm asking about an application.

Chris said...

"in general, smart people are not interested in paying attention to computer stuff. We just want tools to get to and engage in the things we're interested in."

Ann, you have a genuine talent for expressing with exquisite simplicity what it would take me paragraphs and paragraphs of windy ranting to come close to articulating.

somefeller said...

After reading that piece, I felt a burning desire to find Cory Doctorow, give him a wedgie and stuff him in a gym locker. And I don't even plan on buying an iPad.

God, why do geeks like him assume that most people, including most highly-educated professionals with very little time on their hands, have any desire or need to take a computer apart or spend hours tricking it out with obscure software or homemade code? As was stated here, we just want something that works well and gets us where we want to go in an efficient manner. In other words, we are interested in technology as a tool, rather than an end in itself. And the fact he had to drop in a stereotypically gross bit of geek-speak cyberpunk imagery was the proverbial cherry on top of this crap sundae of an essay.

Penny said...

Steve Jobs described the iPad as the intersection of liberal arts and technology.

Sounds like my kind of corner.

Penny said...

Lewsar, I was watching Charlie Rose's show where it was said that all iPhone apps were transferable to the iPad, and while Kindle originally will show the size it is on the iPhone, there is a button to press that doubles the size to better fit the iPad screen.

bagoh20 said...

Smart people are not interested in paying attention to...

I forget what I was gonna say.

Beth said...

I don't agree with Doctorow's argument, but Althouse, you're not quoting him fairly if you're implying he displays "mom-o-phobia" - he's chastizing geeks who, in saying they have to buy only simple devices for their moms, display that mom-o-phobia. He wrote, "I remember the early days of the web -- and the last days of CD ROM -- when there was this mainstream consensus that the web and PCs were too durned geeky and difficult and unpredictable for 'my mom' (it's amazing how many tech people have an incredibly low opinion of their mothers)."

Doctorow in no way has a low opinion of his mom, or anyone else's. But he's wrong about the iPad, nonetheless. I liked, though, how boingboing ran his review and Xeni Jardin's gushing one in favor of the iPad, and let readers sort it out for themselves.

Alex said...

LakeLevel - but the average retail consumer doesn't care about open/closed systems. They only want the shiny thing that works.

Alex said...

Also hard men drink hard liquor in a glass. Straight, never on the rocks.

themightypuck said...

I think Doctorow's point is that it is hard to predict what usability will be so closed systems are likely to fail. It all boils down to the speed of innovation. If innovation moves slow then Apple will do better than if it moves fast. This isn't a big deal for Apple since that is pretty much always the case for hardware makers.

Suburbanbanshee said...

Too expensive. Users too smug and pretentious.

Any mere product that sets itself up as a lifestyle choice is not something I want to use.

I miss the old Apple IIe. It was a computer, not a brag. If Apple went back to being humble, I might find the money to deal with the expense.

Oh, and no computer I've ever seen has had a really intuitive design. Apple is just as hard to figure out as any of them; it's just more delusional about it.

themightypuck said...

Suggesting that "smart people" don't like to play around with technology is pretty dumb.

Moose said...

Doctrow hit the nail on the head. I call Apple products the Fischer Price of operating systems. Bright colors, big knobs - for kiddies.

What scares me the most is the level of control that Apple exerts over their particular ecosystem. While it comes off as good design, and perhaps is meant as that, its actually stifling in the larger sense of freedom of information and the ability to experiment.

Not surprising that you like Macs, Ann. I worked with professors when I lived in Ann Arbor and the colleges loved Apple. After years in IT, which I started by doing DTP on porthole Macs, I find the infantilizing and scary.

MarkW said...

Suggesting that "smart people" don't like to play around with technology is pretty dumb.

Some smart people don't. Other smart people would like to spend as little time as possible thinking about legal issues and American Idol.

There's no doubt that the iPad is an elegant device. And the 'you can't hack it' complaint doesn't move me. But I really do worry about the Disnified Walled Garden aspect of the iPad that is carried over from the iPhone. Phones are bad enough, but if computing in general moves in that direction, we'll have given up a lot of freedom and openness.

So if the tablet niche takes off, I do hope that either upcoming Windows based tablets (like the HP Slate) and/or Android-based tablets account for most of the market.

Hucbald said...

Yes, I get it; Corey likes to tinker, and he thinks everybody should want to tinker with every device they have. Well, guess what: He's an anti-consumer; same as a consumer, but no eyes.

I like to hot rod my main systems with special graphics cards, additional hard drives, and whatnot, but I really have no desire to tear apart my iPhone because it's a different kind of device with a different mission: It's an adjunct to my main system, just like the iPad will be.

Oh, and the iPad's battery is not soldered in place, which was revealed in recently released photos of the internals, so just like people like Corey were wrong about me being able to upgrade memory on my Mac Mini, they are also wrong about me being able to change my own iPad battery.

It's called myopia, Corey. Look it up, because you've got it.

JM Hanes said...

It's not about whether you're a Mom or Geek. It's about whether you like being forced to use AT&T with your iPhone.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater said...

Coupla things:
* My mom taught me how to install RAM chips on, yes, an Apple ][+, back in 1979 or thereabouts.
* That said, given the tech support role I've played in my family for nigh-on 25 years, I know how bafflingly stupid and byzantine most computers seem to most 'normal' folks, and am super-glad I converted my family to OS X 5 years ago.
* I think what gets most hackers' goats is the hypocrisy of Apple, or at least the Apple narrative received from history: Apple portrays itself as the free-spirited hacker computer company building things 'for the rest of us', and yet its products are the most expensive, most locked-in, and least open. Hypocrisy to a hacker is like a hangnail or floppy tooth: we just want to tear it out and toss it away.
* All that said, I prefer Apple products, at least the ones in markets that I can't assemble myself from parts (notebook and phone, mainly).

cottus said...

Back in the days before this mad technological race to the future, a person like you describe, who knew what they wanted and didn't have interest or time to mess with the tricky business of how to get there was called "illiterate".

Robt C said...

What amazes me about all this is not the geek vs. "just do it" folks, but how many people, including smart people like Althouse, are willing to shell out $500 or more on a product that they, or anyone they know, have not even touched, let alone used.

wind.rider said...

Part of what Cory is saying is that Apple has crabbed its way more firmly into the Microsoft model of 'do it the way WE tell you to' more firmly than Gates and Company ever truly implemented. Maybe this is driven by Apple's realization that by restricting how you can get what you want on the device, they can milk many, many sheckels out of the arrangement.

Prior to the discover of that model with the iPhone, Apple offered the best of both worlds - machines that had a really 'ergonomic' interface overlay via OS X, with otherwise virtual freedom for those that had the geeky jones about them, and most importantly, they pretty much stuck to the 'standards', instead of trying to re-invent them.

But, it's becoming more and more obvious, as Corey points out, that Apple has made a choice, and that choice is to go with the 'easy money' - with a lot of the bruised feelings coming from not only ditching a significant part of the model that pleased a lot of folks, but treating such desires as bad, even criminal.

This move to the uber proprietary approach is the big turn off for me with Apple's offerings since the iPhone (and the iTouch, and now the iPad). To me, they are hobbled appliances, far short of their potential as the truly mobile computing platforms 'that just work', yet with the versatility that a user controllable and configurable OS along with some very basic connectivity options that are purposely lacking.

In one fell swoop, Apple has completed their self hypoctization, becoming ultra condescending jerks concerned only with short term maximization of the dollar figure bottom line.

And the elegance of form factor, the chic cachet, the 'cool' factor, these certainly don't sugar coat the bitter 'shut up, sit down in that corner and color, and like it' pill enough to swallow.

Murle said...

I think some people missed the point of Doctorow's article. It's not that he thinks that everyone wants to tinker with the code on the system. It's not that he thinks everyone should want to. The point is that the guy who would write the killer app that will solve your problem (enhance the tool for you) can't or won't do it because Apple has erected barriers that make it hard for him to reach you, the potential customer.
What you end up with is a tool that is less likely to work for you.

Murle said...

I think some people missed the point of Doctorow's article. It's not that he thinks that everyone wants to tinker with the code on the system. It's not that he thinks everyone should want to. The point is that the guy who would write the killer app that will solve your problem (enhance the tool for you) can't or won't do it because Apple has erected barriers that make it hard for him to reach you, the potential customer.
What you end up with is a tool that is less likely to work for you.

Murle said...

Aargh. My first post and I double it. Oops.

John said...

The iPad is a consumer device, but not in the way most people are defining "consumer." The iPad was not designed for content creators; it was designed for content consumers. It is the natural progression from what many of us are using our iPhones for -- instant, seemless (mostly) access to content.

Doctorow and his Maker brethren are my own brothers in arms. I love tinkering, unbuilding and remaking, too. But I don't let that proclivity blind me to simple and elegant solutions that are fashioned with glue and not screws.

The iPad is not a Swiss Army Knife because it doesn't have to be in order to be incredibly useful.

Derek Kite said...

Murle: don't worry. What you said was worth repeating twice.

Folks, where is the sam hell do you think this nice stuff that just works comes from? Some dark room in Cupertino?

The underlying OS was written, not by Apple engineers, but hackers and university students over a period of years.

That nice web browser? That originates from a project done by half a dozen european hackers, who wanted to see if they could do it. Much better result than what a commercial house could come up with. Apple took it, added some stuff, and packaged it up nicely so you don't have to think about it.

Apple is now in a race they are going to lose. The bright ideas, let's try this mentality has another platform. More than one actually. Nokia, Android. The great new ideas that will change the way you work won't come from Apple.

This is not to understate the amount of effort and skill required to finish, fit and polish a platform. Apple is great at that.

But why, oh why, would they make a larger iphone instead of a smaller macbook? 1985 with a pretty face.

Derek

Jesse said...

Cory doesn't call anyone stupid in his post, or assert his own intelligence as you feel compelled to, just his love for hackability and his belief that reducing the computing experience to a chain of commercial interactions is a Bad Thing. If you re-read his post, he bemoans Apple's low opinion of the average consumer.

Despite that, the common thread among most of these comments, and the original post by Ann is a defensiveness and a reassurance that We Are Smart People Too. To paraphrase Margaret Thatcher: if you have to tell people you're intelligent, you aren't.

"...in general, smart people are not interested in paying attention to computer stuff." Says who? An attorney in Wisconsin?

In the year 2010, anyone who doesn't pay attention to "computer stuff" is setting themselves up for obsolescence, or would you believe this enough to apply this principle to kids?

I said...

I am a computer geek. I went to college for Computer Science in addition to a different major. I know a lot about software design, programming theory, and I understand how operating systems work inside and out.

My computer of choice? My MacBook Pro. Likewise for an increasing number of my former Computer Science professors.

There are two types of computer geeks, it seems. On the one hand, you have computer geeks like me who focus mainly on programming or computer engineering. They're interested in the way software works or in how to engineer computer parts in order to get computers to function on a more efficient level. And then you have what I sometimes like to refer to as "pseudo-computer geeks". These are the people that know all about how to build and customize computers. They may know a thing or two about hacking and how to customize applications or what have you, but ask them anything about how, say, the different underlying architectures like DOS and Unix handle kernels and they wouldn't be able to tell you. I mean, they know about computer parts and which ones are the best to buy. They know the surface differences between operating systems--like how they function differently from one another on the surface, but they really don't know all that much about computers. They aren't at all trained in Computer Science or Computer Engineering. They're, in a way, like car enthusiasts who like to take apart and customize their own cars. They might know a lot about that aspect of cars, but ask them to actually engineer, say, a better motor and they wouldn't know what to do.

At any rate, my point is that you have these two different types of computer geeks. The ones doing the most complaining about Apple, it seems, are the latter type.

Sune Slips said...

"smart people are not interested in paying attention to computer stuff"

O RLY?

You sure proved you're dumb.