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Freedom

When something you think you own actually owns you instead.


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Steve Jobs had a 'Tate à Tate' with a writer from Gawker a few days ago. Jobs talked about the conversation with Walt Mossberg at D8. Jobs said he didn't at first realise who Ryan Tate was.

Jobs' admission to Mossberg hints it was Jobs himself who responded - not an office grunt. The late hour of the exchange also lends credence.

Tate says he was home alone, his wife was away, he was a bit inebriated - and the iPad ad irked him as it's irked many. Tate started things off by claiming 'revolutions are about freedom' and scolding Jobs with a reference to one of the latter's music idols.

Tate and Jobs have a bit of a 'history' inasmuch as it was a colleague at Gizmodo who got busted for coming upon the iPhone 4 prototype. Jobs claimed he had nothing to do with the controversial police bust and it was the Gizmodo editor's roommate who'd alerted the police and not Apple, but Tate didn't necessarily know that.

'If Dylan was 20 today, how would he feel about your company? Would he think the iPad had the faintest thing to do with revolution?'
 - Ryan Tate

A device may represent a technological revolution perhaps. But the message of the ad wants to hint at something more comprehensive, perhaps even political in nature. That at any rate seems to be what irks Tate and others. 'Revolution' is a sacred word.

Dictionary.com defines 'freedom' as 'the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint', alternatively 'exemption from external control, interference, regulation, etc', alternatively 'the power to determine action without restraint'. That seems fairly clear.

Descriptions of freedoms are generally of the form 'freedom to' - not 'freedom from'.

And Jobs' response?

'Yep, freedom from programs that steal your private data. Freedom from programs that trash your battery. Freedom from porn. Yep, freedom. The times they are a changin', and some traditional PC folks feel like their world is slipping away. It is.'
 - Steve Jobs

√ 'Freedom from programs that steal your private data'. That's not a freedom. That's a protection.
√ 'Freedom from programs that trash your battery'. That's not a freedom. That's a product improvement.
√ 'Freedom from porn'. That's not a freedom. That's censorship.
√ 'Yep, freedom. The times they are a changin'. Pundits would argue Dylan wasn't a revolutionary anyway. He strongly contested involvement in political movements, said one shouldn't read too much into his lyrics, and so forth. In one famous quote he mentioned that if he wrote about stepping over a drunk on the streets of New York City, then he was only talking about stepping over a drunk and no more.

Some musicians say they believe music can effect if not 'revolution' then at least 'change'. Mark Knopfler's one. He's said so. Yet his musical career is hardly about activism. Sultans of Swing isn't exactly a revolutionary song. Telegraph Road and Tunnel Of Love are great songs but they're not revolutionary. Some of the closing tracks on Brothers In Arms had a message, but the opening ones didn't.

Australian MP Peter Garrett of Midnight Oil, the cult Australian group that did nothing but activism throughout their 25 year career, says ironically that music can only herald change - never effect it.

Jobs' other idols the Beatles effected change (but were hardly concerned with it). Bob Dylan wrote about it sometimes (but claimed he wasn't an activist). John Lennon did try to effect change on his own with songs like Give Peace a Chance, Happy Xmas/War Is Over, and Imagine.

But Tate wasn't citing John Lennon - he was citing Bob Dylan. And Jobs took up the challenge without hesitation.

√ 'Some traditional PC folks feel like their world is slipping away'. An attempt to change the subject. What PC folks feel about the iPad has nothing to do with freedom in any sense of the word. There's no logic there at all. Tate is talking about true revolution; Beatles/Dylan lover Steve Jobs, born 1955 and thus much too late to be part of the 'revolution' his idols took part in or didn't take part in, hasn't a clue.

Jobs was four years old when Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Richie Valens died. He wasn't yet in school when Peter Paul and Mary started hitting the Greenwich nightclubs. He was just barely in school (seven years old) when Bob Dylan's first album came out. He was eight or nine when the Beatles hit the US shores for the first time. He was 12 when Woody Guthrie passed away.

Steve Jobs doesn't have a clue about any freaking revolutions - not then, not now. So he tries to change the subject instead. It doesn't work out too good.

Freedom Is

Freedom is 'the people decide' - no one else. Describing constrictions in terms of freedoms is a tack tried (rather successfully to begin with) in a certain European country in the 1930s. Those people were given (or promised) freedom from a lot of things. They were promised freedom from poverty ('a chicken on every Sunday dinner table'). They were promised freedom from unruly social elements. And so forth. They weren't promised freedom to anything.

A very unsettling thing about Jobs is how US-centric he is. When he defines privacy - otherwise a great definition - he talks about privacy policy explained not 'in plain language' but 'in plain English'. When he says he doesn't want the US descending into a nation of bloggers, he's talking only about his own country.

Wikipedia claims there are between 5,000 and 10,000 languages in the world; 'English' as Jobs incorrectly calls it is but one.

'I don't want to see us descend into a nation of bloggers.'
 - Steve Jobs

Us - not the world in general.

When Jobs spoke about the great newspapers of the world at D8, he didn't mention El Pais or Le Monde or Figaro or Der Spiegel or DN or the Times - he mentioned only the NY Times and WaPo.

The pièce de résistance - the line in the sand - comes when he says it's his 'moral responsibility' to keep porn off the iPhone.

Fiore's app will be in the store shortly. That was a mistake. However, we do believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone. Folks who want porn can buy and [sic] Android phone.
 - Steve Jobs

This is part and parcel of the same thing Tate was trying to talk about. And certainly Apple are trying to sidestep guilt by association - they want to sell a lot of iPhones and iPads to Puritanical parents for their kids. But not everyone shares the view (thank goodness) that Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson did something terrible.

'You might care about porn when you have kids.'
 - Steve Jobs

Does Ryan Tate have kids? Does Jobs know? He told Walt he had no idea who Tate was. So how could he assume Tate didn't have children? No matter: porn is not harmful to children unless their parents are already ripped up by it. And no matter again: for this is a cultural opinion and is in no sense universal. And it's chauvinistic to force things like this on other peoples. Actions like that start wars.

People who purchase an iPhone or an iPad own it and have the freedom to do anything they want with it.

What about the Kama Sutra? And the ancient monasteries in India and Thailand? Henry Miller? Suzanne Brøgger? What about the fertility rites in Japan?

'But come on. I don't think it's going to fuck up my kids if someone in my house looks at a porn clip.'
 - Ryan Tate

Now Jobs suddenly does an about-face and claims the discussion isn't about freedom at all, despite he himself calling out its name repeatedly.

'Its [sic] not about freedom, its [sic] about Apple trying to do the right thing.'
 - Steve Jobs

So what would the right thing be?

Computer companies have always bundled software with hardware. IBM's old mainframes - inordinately expensive either to lease or purchase - came with tonnes of magnetic tapes. IBM had a constricting contract too - you could take anything that came preinstalled off the machines and add anything you wanted from the tapes, but it wasn't advisable to install any other software.

Why not? Because you needed a support contract with a machine like that and IBM can't be held accountable (or even knowledgeable) about third party software. Maybe they'd be familiar with it, maybe not - but they couldn't guarantee it.

But Big Blue customers were never physically prevented from installing what they wanted, from doing what they wanted with their own property.

IBM's PC came with a 'hardware interface' as did Apple's early efforts. You have to have something running 'turnkey'. But the domain of the OS supplier has always been clear: supply the OS and perhaps a bit more to help people get going, provide a development environment - then butt the fuck out. It's only recently with the 'features wars' that things have changed - and not for the better: customers get more confused than ever; they forget to look 'under the bonnet' to see how good the actual operating system is.

Apple's OS X is packaged with a number of applications. Many of these are never used. Applications associated with the web are probably used more than others. The software in /Applications/Utilities is probably used more infrequently still. Even the applications in the ADC package aren't going to be used that extensively. But that's OK - the OS supplier isn't supposed to do that anyway. Not traditionally at any rate.

Freedom in the context of a hardware/software combination is the freedom of owners to do whatever they want - it's their computer. The OEMs sell the hardware, the OS vendors sell the system, somebody probably bundles them, the customer buys one of the bundles, the customer now owns it and is now free to do whatever he bloody pleases with his own property.

Things don't work that way in the world of Apple. Apple aren't giving you freedom - they're constricting you. You might like it but don't call it freedom. Calling it freedom is propaganda - it's a prevarication. A lie.

The Freedom of Open Source

Scott Forstall joined NeXT in 1992. He had five years with the company before the merger brought him to Cupertino. Scott was asked back in September 2007 why Apple used closed source for their OS kernels. Forstall said it was for 'security purposes'.

'Security through obscurity' is the biggest joke in the IT industry. Linux is open source - heard of any good exploits lately? Microsoft is closed source - enough said?

Steve Jobs likes to cite the fact he plays well with the FOSS movement because he has WebKit which all the major smartphone OEMs use today. But WebKit is based on KHTML which has the LGPL licence. Apple's OS kernels have the much more generous BSD licence - Apple can hide code all they want. And they do.

And closed source kernels are never more secure. They might relieve minor anxiety attacks on the part of management but they're definitely not more secure. On the contrary.

Our Most Precious Word

Liberté. Freiheit. Frihet. Свобода. Frihed. Vrijheid. Libertà. Liberdade. Libertad. The most precious (beautiful) word we have. It's not nice to see someone bandy it about with such disrespect.

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