Controlled Convenience or Chaotic Freedom?

Steve Jobs was responsible for revolutionising the computer age. When Apple released the Macintosh in 1984 it was the first time consumers were given a user-friendly means of interacting with a computer. The Macintosh introduced the first graphical user interface and was the first mass-market computer to be networkable. But while Apple brought us into the personal computer era their business model has practically reversed and seems hell bent on taking us out of it.

Apple products such as the IPhone have stopped being computing devices and have become simplistic information applications. They are incapable (by design) of operating anything outside of their designated software and they prevent users from accessing any internal elements; creating this shell of a computer that runs entirely off of face level applications. All content and the way you can interact with that content is controlled. You don’t own applications only pay to use them, you cannot change anything, install anything, transfer content and all the apps you can download have come from a centralised network that have gone through an intensive approval process.

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“It was easy to use, elegant and cool – and had lots of applications right out of the box… but the company quietly dropped a fundamental feature, one signalled by the dropping of ‘Computer’ from Apple Computer’s name” (Johnathan Zittrain).

“The fundamental difference between a PC and an Information Application is that a PC can run code from anywhere while Information Appliances remain tethered to makers desires, offering a more consistent and focused user experience at the expense of flexibility and innovation” (Jonathan Zittrain again).

While your phone not being a computer isn’t necessarily a bad thing as Steve Jobs himself proclaimed “You don’t want your phone to be like a PC. The last thing you want is to have loaded three apps on your phone and then you go to make a call and it doesn’t work anymore”. It is important to keep in mind though that the mobile phone has actually replaced the desktop as the primary mode of access to the internet. For millions of people, particularly those in developing nations their phone is their computer.

The Alliance of Open Handsets offer the polar opposite to Apple with their free Android operating system that can run on any device, can be completely rooted or moded and grants users access to both an official app store and unofficial ones. Plus you are allowed to upload your own aps. Originally Apple dominated the smart phone market but Android has now captured 85% of it, just going to show that a long tail of many small units will inevitably always out preform a lesser number of large ones.

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When Google first announced the alliance and the concept of Android, Steve predicted that the fragmented nature and uncontrollability of the idea would be its demise “I think it hurts them more than it helps, it is just going to divide them”.  While he was right about the division he was wrong about it being a negative. Eric Raymond believes networked systems always beat hierarchical ones because you can accomplish more and faster. He compares Cathedrals to Bazaars noting that if you release content early and often problems are resolved quickly by the sheer many. “Given enough eyes all bugs are shallow”. While Apples system of having a selected few make something perfect before release makes the task slow and monumental.

But in the end it all boils down to personal preference, Apples system ensures you are only buying something that has been carefully designed to ensure everything runs smoothly and easily whereas the Android system gives you everything good or bad; you have the power the chose and therefore the responsibility. It is just a question of if you want controlled convenience or chaotic freedom.

Pro-Anti Slacktivism

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It seems everybody these days has the potential to become a social activist. With convergence the way it is, all you really need is an issue and a smartphone.

With your Iphone in hand it’s easy to make that new campaign page on Facebook, spread your message on BlogPress, rally those supporters on Linked-In, organize that mass event on Twitter, record that protest you made and edit it into a hard-hitting, life changing, emotional masterpiece on Imovie and then upload it straight to YouTube where it can be streamed and shared to people all over the world.

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So in a way ,yes, it is true that apptivism (as I like to call it) “has the potential to transform the spontaneous outburst of demonstrations and renewed interest in the radical left into a coherent, highly organized and efficient movement” (Adam Waldron 2010), but at the same time, what we are seeing nowadays is not legitimate and effective activism but rather the creation of a passive ‘slacktivist’ culture in which people would rather like a Facebook page than actually go out and try to make a difference. Micah White argued in The Guardian that ‘digital activists’ promoting ‘clicktivism’ are endangering the very ‘possibility of an emancipatory revolution in our lifetimes’. This is something that I half agree with.

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The First thing we need to look at when examining the role of ‘digital activism’ is to look at the motives of those involved. When people support these causes are they doing it because they are legitimately concerned about the issue or are they doing to make themselves feel good about doing good. Maybe they want others to think their making a difference, or maybe they’re just pro-anti (supporting or going against something for the sake of supporting or going against it).

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The Next thing we need to look at is the level of impact ‘digital activism’ has. Is it really that effective? I mean yes, it gathers support for issues and yes it has the potential to generate mass awareness, but does it have the potential to generate actual change? Personally believe that yes it can, but at the same time I feel that no it doesn’t and this only because my personal experience with online activism has been witnessing a whole bunch of online communities discussing their concerns but doing nothing about them (This is called slacktivism). How does liking a page on Facebook or re-tweeting a link make a difference offline?

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Don’t get me wrong though, I do believe online activism has potential. Take the Occupy Wall Street protests for example, originally a protest encampment that started out with a few dozen students and unemployed university graduates. Within weeks it inspired thousands of New Yorkers to join, and spawned scores of similar protests around the country. (Click here for Source). And look at Kony 2012, that campaign literally took the world by storm, for a while it was everywhere; it was all everyone was talking about. There is no doubt that it raised awareness on a mass global scale and got thousands of people all over the world involved. However, I still am unsure of whether to call that campaign a success or not because I am still asking myself the question, what did it actually achieve. Other than inform people of an injustice, what political change did it make? and now a year later, no one is talking about it anymore, it seems to have just faded away without any real significance.

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In order for ‘clicktivist’ campaign to be successful I feel it needs to call people to action offline, not just gather support and awareness online, but I can’t deny that it’s a good start and I have no doubt that online activism could and will lead to some major social and political changes in the near future.

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I’ll Tell You What You Want… What You Really Really Want

“We define everything that is on the phone. . . . You don’t want your phone to be like a PC. The last thing you want is to have loaded three apps on your phone and then you go to make a call and it doesn’t work anymore. These are more like iPods than they are like computers.”  Steve Jobs, at the launch of the iPhone.

Steve Jobs makes a valid argument, many of us grow tired of the constant threat of viruses, the complicated layout of different operating systems and the gripping fear of making a mistake that renders our phone utterly useless. However, when I say ‘many of us’ I am actually primarily referring to those of the ‘technologically unequipped’ persuasion. So what about the rest of us? Why should we (in the eyes of Steve Jobs) fall into this category and why does he feel he has the power to determine what we as consumers do and do not want?

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This is were the concept of open and closed medias comes in. Open Medias being any platform that is completely unblocked to consumer discretion and closed medias being platforms that restrict users to the limits set by the platforms creator. With an open platform users have the option to change anything from layout down to the core of the operating system. A closed system takes this away from consumers giving the creator complete control over platform, content and user.

You would think that people would be all for an open system, when you take into consideration the fact that convergent media platforms today are bigger than the sum of their parts. A phone is no longer just a phone but an interface for the internet, a medium of mass convergence and at times an extension of yourself. Wouldn’t you want something that you can change to suit your own personal needs? At the same time though, an open platform is also open to errors and there truly are people out there who just want their phone to be a phone. And so the question remains, is the promise of security and simplicity enough of a reason for people to give up their freedom?… Apple thinks yes, Android thinks no.

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I don’t know about anyone else but I personally get the sense that Apple is like The Matrix, its users are completely restricted within the limits of what Apple defines, they can not get apps from anywhere other than the app store, they cant change anything on the phone, not even the appearance of the layout. I also find that apple users blissfully exist within this matrix without the knowledge that a freedom of choice exists. Steve jobs believes that consumers should not have a choice when it comes to their phones as apple knows what they do and do not want. All I want is the ability to download things for free, to be able to drop and drag things onto my phone without the hassle of sinking through iTunes and to be free to use my phone how i want to use it. I refuse to be a slave to apple law no longer.

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So how does the concept of open and closed Medias relate to my chosen media GameSpot?

GameSpot co-exists as both an open and a closed media. It is open in the sense that users are able to upload what they want and start discussion forums of their choosing, it is closed however as all content is monitored and GameSpot holds the right to remove any content at will. While users start their own threads and discussions are open to anyone, users can’t actually alter the website in any way, this makes it more of a closed media than an open one. Is this necessarily a bad thing though?
The fact that GameSpot can’t be hacked and altered, allows for the website to function as it’s supposed to, without the fear of user error or corruption. This allows people to use the site safely and securely knowing they are not being hacked themselves. Due to the monitoring and filtration of the forums and comments, there is strong quality control of information, which again is a good thing because it allows users to find useful and accurate information quickly without the need for self filtering. So you can see that closed medias are not necessarily a bad thing, it is really up to context of the medium and the idea of consumer choice. Should consumers have the option to alter the mediums of communication they use to suit themselves? The answer is debatable.