On Procrastination, the iPhone, and Grinding.be

By | September 1, 2009

Clearly I’ve got work to do, because I’m procrastinating with blog posts.

#include<speculative comments about motivation>

Interesting piece about the futurist implications of the promising new technologies on the horizon becoming corporate controlled walled-gardens, much as everything is now. It’s clear that some level of profit driven development is good, as it spurs innovation, but it’s also clear that too much moves to stifle innovation. To me, it seems that the iPhone is an example that’s swinging to the stifling end of the spectrum.

I have an iPhone, and I like it, but in some ways I regret buying it – had I known about the imminent release of Android phones back in Sept last year, I would have waited. Aside from the overly optimistic prospect of me writing apps for Android, owning the iPhone makes me feel slightly dirty, like I’ve just been sent a particularly glossy membership card to the NZ National party or some other vaguely nefarious organization. Despite their clear skill at aesthetics and design, Apple just seem sinister to me. It must be all the fanboys. Organizations that have and encourage a cult-like following always disturb me.

From the article:

I say that the iPhone is not the future, but what I mean by that is that the iPhone is not representative of a future I want to see. The future is not just a retail opportunity and a finer world is not built entirely of consumer goods. I’m not keen on a future where the major technologies of environmental and social mediation are owned and controlled by corporate ideology. As AR creeps closer and closer, the question of who gets to plant a flag in the liminal space of a technologically re-mediated environment becomes a more pressing concern – with new horizons there are always new forms of colonialism.

Interesting comments and discussions. Here’s mine:

Let’s assume we’re talking about the actions that a certain group or subculture can take to adapt these future unfriendly devices for themselves – aboniks is totally right that we can’t somehow convince the mass body public that the abridgement of rights they are barely aware of in the first place is enough reason for them to give up their shiny toys and stop responding emotionally to well crafted marketing. That’s just human nature, and immutable, at least for now.

Granted, the principle of openness could be crafted into a compelling message that might slowly challenge these closed cultures, but that’s an eternal vigilance problem – we’d have to have to resources to push our message on a similar scale, push it hard, and keep pushing it. If we were really capable manipulators, we could try dressing it up in religious clothes, but again, that’s not something a small group of hackers can easily do (though I’m always for starting a cult of technology).

This is all just paraphrasing of the old maxim “show, don’t tell”. Open source and future friendly systems and devices need to beat closed systems at their own game. We have to design systems, devices, whatever it is we design to be more usable, more focused, more elegant, more aesthetically pleasing, and with not necessarily more features, but better and more applicable features.

So, what can we do? Design stuff. Make stuff. Publicize everything we do. Help each other make stuff. Get past ego – it’s not about designing things to make one person or one subgroup look awesome, it’s about designing things to help us all move forward. Hack things. Publish our hacks. Design our creations to work together. Establish open de facto standards before the big corporates come in and foist closed ones upon us. Put every good idea in the commons, and make that commons so visible that patent inspectors can’t help but notice it. Encourage our children.

Some of that’s really practical, some of that’s philosophical. I think both are necessary – ideology without designs is just pretentious pap, design without ideology is all to easily co-opted by the greedy.

Edit: Seems that, two years ago, when I posted this, I left out the link to the original article. How stupid of me.

  • You say 'greedy' like it's a bad thing :)

    So what happens to the designers that are motivated by the tangible rewards of the market? What happens to the non-designers that also receive the tangible rewards of the market… the fellow working in the Apple Store, the shipping clerk, the folks in marketing? What about Justin Long?

  • Yeah, I do. It is a bad thing.

    There's nothing wrong with wanting to have money to do the things you want, but greed's a step beyond that. It's accumulation for accumulation's sake, with no care for effects on others. The meme that greed is virtuous is peculiarly western and wrong, IMGO. It's important, though, to note that I'm talking about the extreme, not the moderate sort of desire for money. Capitalism works wonderfully as a means for distributing wealth efficiently, but it fails when a greedy minority manipulate the vulnerabilities of the technological and sociological context in which it operates in order to concentrate that wealth in their own hands.

    As for the designers motivated by money and other people supported by instituations derived from incentivized innovation, I think you missed my point in the first paragraph about there being a balance. Economic incentives definitely spur innovation, and that is a good thing, for the reasons you list, and more. I'm not talking about that – I'm talking about abusive corporatism, which is distinctly different from capitalism. Incidentally, an open marketplace is far more competitive and offers far more diverse opportunities than a closed one, so if you agree that innovation is a good thing, you're either automatically agreeing with the open position or doubting one of the premisses.

    It sounds like you're misreading me as a hippie of some kind, which I'm definitely not :)

  • Aboniks

    Hey Trond.  :)  Just passing in the night and ran aground here since my name doesn’t often appear in google.  Thinking (and reading) back on the original thread that spawned this eddy, Gibsons “sandbenders” came to mind.

    Think of the crackberry crowd, and the obsessive gear personalization that goes on in that scene.  Those people don’t all start out thinking that they want their cell phone to run their blenders and light schedule in their fish tanks…they start out wanting a case for it, or a belt clip, but the ones with underlying aptitude or interest get sucked much deeper into the scene than they intended.

    Maybe another vector of attack on the pervasive “magic box” consumer mentality is staring us all in the face.  Perhaps we need to start with the outside of the machine, skins, clips, etc.  Take the blandest widget you can find and put it into something ridiculous, like the million dollar diamond encrusted cellphone.  In practice it’s a stupid object, clearly, but so are the vast majority of protective skins for phones…they’re not water proof or shock proof, provide no value other than aesthetic, but they get people (at least the ones with the aptitude) to start thinking. 

    Anyway, just rambling.