Creative Liberties in the New World

29 January 2010

I highly respect Alex Payne, and always enjoy reading his posts. His thoughts on the iPad, though, don’t make sense to me.

The thing that bothers me most about the iPad is this: if I had an iPad rather than a real computer as a kid, I’d never be a programmer today.

His argument is that Apple doesn’t leave room for tinkerers to tinker. Perhaps Payne is ignorantly dismissing the jailbreaking community in his observations, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

He clarified his comments in a ‘postscript’:

my remark about not learning to program if I had an iPad wasn’t intended to be a blanket statement about any child not learning to program on the device. There are plenty of kids out there who are way smarter and more motivated than I was in my formative years, and I’m sure they’ll tinker no matter what obstacles are put in their way.

Exactly.

But let’s, for the sake of argument, pretend Apple has created a fully closed system that cannot be tinkered with, hacked or modified. If I’m understanding Payne’s point, in order to progress the digital age, Apple must open the system up to tinkering. His premise is, as he puts it, that the ‘hacker culture’ has propelled the digital economy.

I disagree, respectfully.

This notion that a computing experience devoid of barriers is better for everyone is shortsighted. Barriers may be limiting to us computer nerds, but to everyone else they provide security. Additionally, it’s the barriers that serve as a challenge to tinkers, hackers and would-be developers.

Which brings me to my next point: true freedom – the kind of freedom that provides a platform for creativity – only comes from a place of security. Look at the US Constitution to find this model. In order to protect our liberties, we have Defenses to maintain our borders.

I think the opposite of Payne – that its the walled garden that will propel the digital economy. The limitations imposed by Apple in its system are both liberating (for consumers) and challenging (for geeks). (How’s that for a dichotomy?)

(And, for the record, in this dichotomy, we geeks are more important, not less important.)

Update: I can’t not link to Joe Hewitt’s post about the subject. This is what he says (emphasis mine):

[Apple’s closed platform] gives me, as a developer, a sense of power and potency and creativity like no other. It makes the software market feel wide open again, like no one’s hegemony is safe. How anyone can feel underwhelmed by that is beyond me.

I’m starting to think that those who are underwhelmed are focusing on iPad 1.0, and just need to sit tight and wait for the platform to grow up a little bit. They’ll come around.