Posts tagged digital_culture

Ted Nelson’s Computer Lib / Dream Machines: there’s a link to a downloadable PDF (of questionable legality and reliability) at the bottom of the page, so hurry up! (via Radio-Activity)

Nelson, of course, is the wacky David Lynch-esque persona who invented the word ‘hypertext’ and fought for an alternate (some might say DRM-enabled) Web for decades with Project Xanadu. Still, Nelson has none of that tired Silicon Valley entrepeneur bullshit rhetoric. His Computers for Cynics podcast (direct link to episode 0) has more wisdom about technology and control in it than the entire ouevre of ‘open source’ demagogues.

Cory Doctorow won't buy an iPad - and we shouldn't

I agree with Doctorow on just about everything he said, except for his view that iPad apps are just the ‘CD-ROM revolution’ redux. There were plenty of great ideas that failed because the technology wasn’t up to it and I believe that touch technology will brings a whole new dimension to the ‘book 2.0’ thing. I even designed an ‘interactive book’ last year at my Master’s with something like the iPad in mind.

That said, the iPad strikes me as a bad precedent. The whole walled garden, app store business model is ultimately more than a business model — it’s a dangerous path to a future in which even books are just something you rent. And when you consider most people’s web browsing consists of a handful of websites, possibly packaged as neat-looking ‘apps’, it’s easy to imagine that five years from now some ‘minor firmware update’ will do away with web browsing, closing the walled garden for good: for I start to feel the iPad is some sort of anti-Internet device.

I’ve read somewhere that the iPad was Neal Stephenson’s Young Lady Illustrated Primer. Well, if you remember the novel in which it appears, the Primer was a super-ebook-like device, designed as a gift for a child of the Neo-Victorian elite, that ends up in the hands of a little girl in a Shangai slum, which the device teaches to become a great leader. The Diamond Age is quite a poignant story of how ‘good’ information technology can lead poor people to do great things, if only those technologies cross the digital divide. So yes, in a way the iPad is like the Primer — it’s an artifact of the Digital Divide — aimed at enlarging it, in fact.

Which brings me to the other disagreement I have with Doctorow’s post: for most people, buying an iPad is not an option that we shouldn’t take. People just can’t. Even in Portugal, which is a fairly decent country by the world’s standard, the iPad’s a luxury. Despite the ease many journalists write about getting one, it does cost more than a pack of cigarettes. And this is why I think the iPad, despite selling millions of units, will ultimately fail Apple’s objectives: it stretches the digital divide too much — it’s no use having a computer so easy to use you granny could have one, if your granny has a hard time paying her medicine. People will get their information somehow, even if in less ‘magical’ ways.