Coders are not the only ones who can create things, says Jason Walsh
Just because you cannot code does not mean you cannot create, says Jason Walsh.
It pains me to write this, it really does, but it has to be said: Shut up! You’re wrong!
As a noted fan of the hackerspace and free software movements writing a defence of the iPad is not how I expected to spend my Sunday morning. However if I read one more geek’s elitist ranting about how the iPad is an ‘evil’ device for ’sheeple’ and morons, designed to lock people into a Murdochian world of passive consumption then I may have to commission someone to build an automatic slapping machine that travels the world administering much-needed correctives to every opinionated code-sniffer with a broadband connection and too much free time on their hands.
I am not a computer programmer. The closest I get to that is messing around with shell scripts, AppleScript or Revolution – and let’s face it, that’s closer than most people.
And that is exactly how it should be. Computers, even the simplest to use, such as Macintoshes, are still far too complicated. It doesn’t matter that people don’t know that double-clicking on Macintosh HD is the same as typing ‘ls ~[home]’ at the shell – they shouldn’t have to know that. They shouldn’t even have to know what a shell is – and, happily, most don’t.
I admire the DIY nature of the free software movement and the nascent hackerspaces. More than that, though, I support Richard Stallman’s clearly thought out views on how software is used as a system of control and both his attempt to free us from that and the hackers ability to break any system of control forced on us by manufacturers.
So why am I defending the iPad from its critics? Simple, because its critics are wrong. Anyone can heap a pile of dung onto an idea but that doesn’t mean their criticisms are valid.
The main complaint about the iPad is that it is supposedly designed for ‘passive’ consumption of media. This mistaken idea is based on a one-eyed view of creativity only being possible when logged into a computer as ‘root’.
Straight out of the box the iPad supports two key creative activities: writing and drawing. Over time it will undoubtedly support more. Most importantly, though, the iPad ‘supports’ learning and thinking – creativity is not located in the device, it is located in the user. There is no ghost in the machine.
I hate to get all Marxist on you but, really, it’s about time some people had a lesson in political economy. Creativity is not limited to writing code or building things from circuits. In fact, creativity is humanity’s unique characteristic. We are all creative – not necessarily equally so, this isn’t senior infants – and it is through creativity that humanity has transformed the world for the better and continues to do so to this day. Escaping our estrangement from the products of our labour is a worthy long-term goal but the increasingly common view of the geek elite that people are stupid is as ignorant as it is ludicrous.
The iPad’s obvious limitations are a product of capitalist social relations, yes. But the iPad is also an attempt to transcend the key limitation of the personal computer as we know it, which is that PCs are big piles of thrown-together shit that barely work properly at the best of times.
The iPad is no more a ‘passive’ device than a newspaper is – another distressingly common view among propeller-heads who sneer at the public for being ’sheep’ without seeing the irony that being well-informed about the world requires access to information of universal value, not just the latest headlines on Slashdot.
Moreover, the hobbyist attitude that is building-up – blogs are better than news, for instance – is a fundamentally elitist and anti-democratic sentiment. I’m all for a world of free access but we won’t get there by saying people shouldn’t be paid for their work.
So, who’s the moron, then?
Do I want to see devices like the iPad with no DRM? Yes, I do. Do I want to see a programmable iPad that doesn’t have Apple as the sole channel for distribution? Yes, I do. But instead of whinging about Apple, maybe the company’s critics should get to work building something better instead of obsessing about getting Debian to run on a toaster.
Anyone who thinks that liberation is coming down a fibre optic cable or found writing shell scripts has a mistaken – and, frankly, religious – view of how the world works.
Jason Walsh is a journalist and social commentator. He edits forth daily.