02 April 2010

The iPad and Philosophical Inconsistency

Appologies that this is turning into a bit of a theme this week, but I'm always amazed by the ongoing ideological schizophrenia of Cory Doctorow.  Today brings me a good example:
Boing Boing | Cory Doctorow | Why I won't buy an iPad (and think you shouldn't, either)

I've spent ten years now on Boing Boing, finding cool things that people have done and made and writing about them. Most of the really exciting stuff hasn't come from big corporations with enormous budgets, it's come from experimentalist amateurs. These people were able to make stuff and put it in the public's eye and even sell it without having to submit to the whims of a single company that had declared itself gatekeeper for your phone and other personal technology.
Dude, yes. Absolutely. But how is it that he can be so opposed to a monolithic corporation acting as a gatekeeper, but so often enamored of governments doing the same? (See, for example, his desire to have the EU mandate a single design for all mobile phone chargers.)
If you want to write code for a platform where the only thing that determines whether you're going to succeed with it is whether your audience loves it, the iPad isn't for you.
How can someone who writes lines like that not be marching in the free market parade?

I actually a agree with a fair number of the critiques Doctorow makes of the iPad. Enough of them anyway that I don't want one anyway.  (Not that I ever did, though.)

[Digression:  See also David Pogue's double-barreled review of the iPad.  He divided his review into one for techies, which was largely negative, and one for everyone else, which was largely positive. Both of them started with the line "The Apple iPad is basically a gigantic iPod Touch," which in the first context is damning and the second context is glowing.  The last line wraps is all: "If you like the concept, you’ll love the machine. The only question is: Do you like the concept?"  I don't.]

Maybe I'm reading too much between the lines since he did title his review "Why I won't buy an iPad (and think you shouldn't, either)," but it bugs me that he maintains this tone throughout that never suggests anyone else might have different priorities than he does.

Take for example his critique of the Marvel Comics application, one of the premier apps for the initial release:
[W]hat does Marvel do to "enhance" its comics? They take away the right to give, sell or loan your comics. What an improvement. Way to take the joyous, marvellous sharing and bonding experience of comic reading and turn it into a passive, lonely undertaking that isolates, rather than unites. Nice one, Misney.
It doesn't seem to occur to him that losing the ability to loan out and trade your books, but gaining the ability to take a huge stack of them with you wherever you go might be a beneficial trade-off for some people.

[Another digression:  Josh Flanagan's review of the same Marvel App at iFanboy has a lot more nuance and appreciation that there are trade-offs to be made, and Josh isn't a guy who's made his name by commenting on digital economics.  He concludes with, "I don't understand why the fans of paper would be against others having more format options, but I've seen it. If you don't like it, don't buy it, and do what you've always done."]

Here's another good example Doctorow failing to leave room for preferences other than his own:
The iStore lock-in doesn't make life better for Apple's customers or Apple's developers.
The iStore lock-in may not make life better for Cory Doctorow. It doesn't make like better for me. But I don't presume that all other potential iStore customers want to make the same choices that I do. Some of them may like to play in a safe, clean, sandbox environment, with heavy-handed editorial control moderating what's allowed and what isn't.  I don't, but some people do.  And that's okay.

I leave you with one final head-scratcher of a comment:
The last time I posted about this, we got a string of apologies for Apple's abusive contractual terms for developers, but the best one was, "Did you think that access to a platform where you can make a fortune would come without strings attached?" I read it in Don Corleone's voice and it sounded just right. Of course I believe in a market where competition can take place without bending my knee to a company that has erected a drawbridge between me and my customers!
First of all, the Apple apologist quoted there is right.  Silly impressions aside, there are strings attached to using things other people create.  Suggesting otherwise is more than a little puerile, but I can see how people might disagree about that.  What has me scratching my noggin is that Doctorow doesn't really support full rights of contract between free people.  He seems perfectly fine with people bending their knees to intermediaries all the time, as long as it's to a government and not a corporation.


  1. But how is it that he can be so opposed to a monolithic corporation acting as a gatekeeper, but so often enamored of governments doing the same?

    I conjecture that he Doctorow imagines he has more control over the government than he does Apple.

    In theory this is true. In actual practice a consumer has way more power over a corporation than he does the government. Don't like Apple - don't use their stuff. Don't like the US government's services ... well you're kinda stuck unless you want to leave the country.

  2. Yeah I think that's a good theory. And the more I think about it the more that I think a "Right of Exit" may be the most valuable thing we could get to keep government power in check.

    I talked a little about people may believe governments are more responsive than corporations here, based on a Roderick Long post here.

    (I feel a little rude referring people back to my previous posts like this, so know that I'm adding that link mostly so I can find that post easier in the future myself rather than because I want people to go and read my back catalog.)