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Apple: Totalitarian art

Jason Calacanis has an excellent post making the case against Apple, from an Apple fan’s point of view. I’m basically with him.

Doc Searls has long said that the key to understanding Steve Jobs — and thus to understanding Apple — is that Job’s an artist. We understand when an artist wants to maintain complete, obsessive control over his creations, especially when they are as beautiful as some Apple products are. But it’s not just artistry at work at Apple. Apple tends towards totalitarianism.

You can see why in its computer architectures: Its products work because they’re relatively closed systems that run tightly controlled hardware, unlike Microsoft’s operating system that has to be able to work on just about every piece of hardware that comes along. And Apple’s stuff generally works beautifully. (I switched from Windows to the Mac about three years ago.) But the hardwired connection between the iPod and iTunes — only recently loosened — is there not to benefit users, but to meet the DRM needs of recording companies and to tether users to Apple. The hardwired connection between the iPhone and the App Store represents a disturbing direction for the industry, in which Apple acts in loco parentis to protect users from their own software decisions, and (apparently) to exclude products they believe hurt the business interests of their partners. The App Store’s success makes it particularly threatening; it’s easy to imagine Apple’s rumored tablet adopting the same strategy, then other companies following suit.

It’s not an unmixed picture, of course. The removal of the egregious DRM from iTunes is a step forward, and seems to have been a step Apple eagerly took, and the movement of the Mac’s OS onto Unix added admirable transparency. Plus, Apple makes some beautiful stuff that works beautifully.

I just wish that going forward, I felt more confident that Apple is on our side, not just as customers but as digital citizens.

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6 Responses to “Apple: Totalitarian art”

  1. The Apple cult has “reaction against the ugliness that comes with open capitalist markets” written all over it.

    Apple is as fresh as Marxism (industrial feudalism) and classical feudal paternalism (think 19th century).

    There is no future for Apple – in an open, free, bottom up, horizontally networked society.

    That’s my opinion of Apple (and Steve Jobs, BTW).

  2. The real problem is that it is necessary to adduce Steve Jobs’ personality to understand Apple, just as it is necessary to adduce Larry Ellison’s personality to understand Oracle, Bill Gates’s AND Steve Ballmer’s to understand Microsoft, etc. etc.

    None of this should be necessary or even possible. Why should emotionally damaged individuals be given a platform from which to economically damage millions? Give Steve Jobs all the art supplies he wants, give Ellison an Olympic swimming pool full of toy boats, and God only knows what Gates or Ballmer need, but keep their horrible emotional sickness away from the economic commons.

  3. Frank, are you saying that the tech industry has an especially high rate of damaged people in leadership positions? There’s a strong case to be made that the norm of leadership in business in this country is itself evidence of emotional damage.

  4. What you say is true. The tech industry was the nominal topic of the moment.

  5. “But the hardwired connection between the iPod and iTunes — only recently loosened — is there not to benefit users, but to meet the DRM needs of recording companies and to tether users to Apple.”

    Agreed. Most of the time, I think these things happen when Apple is stepping out of familiar territory (the Mac). To sell music and movies on iTunes, the company has to deal with record labels and movie studios whether it likes it or not. Looking to sell a cell phone? Here come the carriers. Apple has to defend their interests and act on their behalf, not mine, because they’re in a business partnership and the carriers are subsidizing the iPhone.

  6. I must say that I still cannot forgive Apple the bold error they made of closing their Mac platform from independent computer makers in later eighties. The early totalitarian thoughts they had paved the way for the victory of worse Intel/PC platform over better Motorola/Macintosh. This fact has slow down the PC revolution by at least 5 years.

    I agree with the basic tone here – while Apple makes beautiful things, their mindset is not of open world.

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