Open, Closed, or the Middle Way?

Although I stand by my initial comments about Apple’s iPad, I have been looking for a handle on the wider ramifications. A listener sent me Mark Pilgrim’s thoughts to which I am very much sympathetic. His tinkerer’s sunset resonates with the risks about which Zittrain and others warn us in too easily accepting appliancized devices. A friend sent me Fraser Speir’s comments which stand in stark contrast to Pilgrim’s but are understandable all the same. Even though I am definitely a power user, I still lose many hours of useful work due to poorly considered design and unforgiving failures.

It would be easy to polarize iPad, as many in the infosphere are starting to do. I typically view polarization, or any sort of simplification, as a failure to understand.

Danny O’Brien wrote up a somewhat rambling post that reminds us of the nuanced, middle view of this device that others are rushing to lionize or demonize.

As was the Mac, compared to the Apple II ecosystem. I remember in 1992, in a run-down London flat, having somehow managed to beg a Mac from a local dealer, sitting and dolefully staring at it because outside of playing MacWrite and admiring the screen resolution, there was damn all you could do with it.

The historical view reminds us that very few trends in anything are genuinely new. Here he does a good job of providing a frame that suggests no single market player really could single-handedly bring about the closed computing apocalypse. It is fruitful to consider the risks, Jonathan Zittrain’s last book gave us a good framework for doing so. But it is less constructive to give too much weight to either end of what is properly a continuum, one whose center of mass clearly fluctuates over time.

I still won’t get one, for much the same reasons I haven’t caved and bought either a Kindle or a Nook. But I also won’t be judging anyone who does get one too harshly. I certainly am less concerned about each such sale slipping us closer to a presumed proprie-tarian state. I am not alone in my desire for more open devices and Danny is right–there has always been and will always be a living, breathing interaction between open and closed systems. This is just the latest iteration.

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