Risks of Being an iPad Eloi

I have had more dissatisfying debates about the closed nature of the iPad recently. It has fueled an uncomfortable metaphor in my mind about the polarization this discussion is inspiring. More on that below.

The sticking point usually is that fans strongly equate the controlled, closed nature of the device as necessary for its ease of use and polished experience. I reject this as a false dichotomy, the fact that open systems are less polished is more historical accident or the result of more selfish priorities amongst open source developers. It is accidental, not essential. It is, however, overwhelming and unfortunate coincidence that the distribution of real world examples seems to support the Apple fan’s contention.

Just today I got into a brief discussion with Glyn Moody on Twitter dissecting a similar contention, that the iPad’s closed nature yields better security. Glyn is trying to hold a more open minded position for which I admire him but for myself it is a position on which I am gradually giving up. In my first hand discussions of the iPad with its fans I keep failing to get them past the closed = usable point. Thankfully, Glyn proved more receptive to my criticisms of the closed = secure argument. On the balance, I am not trying to get fans to abandon the device but to be more open to critical thought about it.

To be fair, he is generally skeptical and sent me a link to his H-Online article dissecting some concerns I had not considered. My own frustration in arguing the risks has led me to thinking of fans as the Eloi from Wells’ “Time Machine”–childlike people of wonder and sunlight who easily lose interest in any thought too involved or troubling. I will admit this is uncharitable but it is equally damning to my own position as by implication that makes me a Morlock–dark dwelling beasts who retain artifice but are dependent on the Eloi in the most grisly way imaginable. I haven’t been able to relate this to any practical point, though. Sharing it, as captivated as I am by the imagery, seemed counter productive.

In a less figuratively disturbing way, Glyn has furnished me with some risks that make my image a bit more relatable, as inflammatory as it may be otherwise. In that article, he highlights the very real risk of appliances like the iPad make the technology policy debates that he and I both follow very closely a lot more difficult. The hermetically sealed experience of the iPad risks insulating its users away from any sense of the stakes involved with very real risks, like the recently passed Digital Economy Bill.

Please read his thoughts. I promise that even though he presents an excellent point for the skeptic side, he concedes that those of us who make open systems haven’t done the best job providing more compelling rebuttals to the closed = usable contention. If you are on twitter, you can read my last message in my exchange with Glyn and follow it backwards (I wish he had replied on Identi.ca since it has that beautiful in context feature Twitter desperately lacks–hm, more usable open source software.) We pick apart the related false dichotomy that may prove to present similar risks if the market realities make the iPhone OS an attract enough target for attackers.

5 Replies to “Risks of Being an iPad Eloi”

  1. You’re lucky to find a fanboi who knows enough about communication, philosophy, debate and argument to hang on.

    I feel like I am running into a wall with most fanbois because they don’t understand things like ethics or moral systems or even what a fallacy is. They will say something like, “but you weren’t picking on video game systems.” Their breathen will rally around that statement as if it counters everything said, little do they realize that video games systems are often just as closed and just as immoral as the iPad, it is just that the iPad is more general purpose.

    They also take an apologist bent, they say that media companies twisted Steve Job’s arm to add more DRM to the iPad/iPhone. This claim is to spare their saviour from be a hypocrite, which he most certainly is. They don’t understand that unethical behaviour is not reduced via transitive action or agreement. If you and I sign a contract where by I have you act immorally and unethically, at my bidding, both of us are acting immorally and unethically. The fanboi does not concede this point, nor does he see it. To the fanboi, a security guard under orders to maim someone is not to blame because they signed an employment agreement. This is the kind of broken reasoning we have to fight with.

    What’s worse is for the most part even if explain in plain language and give plenty of concrete examples they still won’t get it. They won’t get the abstract explanation and they definitely don’t get the concrete ones.

    We’re dealing with a real lack of education in debate and philosophy. They can’t even call me out when I invoke the terror of ethics. They are that weak.

  2. Well, the analogy really breaks down on the Morlock side, doesn’t it? Users and fans of open source systems don’t rely – in any way, really – on the iPad/iPhone/iPod/OS X users. In fact, given that OS X is based on one of the BSDs, things are a little bit the other way around. They have been attempting to give back to the open source community with the various Darwin variant, so it’s not entirely a one-way street, but none of those seem to have achieved any notable success.

    Also, if “closed system” were synonymous with “secure”, there wouldn’t be so many security holes in Microsoft products. Apple products only appear secure because they aren’t currently a target – although that may change as Apple’s market share increases and mobile bandwidth continually increases. After all, a hundred thousand zombie iPhones in a botnet aren’t particularly useful if they can only send a couple of spam e-mails a day due to being disconnected most of the time, but once mobile broadband is sufficiently reliable, I imagine that many exploits will be found and used by many of the same types of malware that PCs encounter today, and possibly some new ones that haven’t been invented yet. Apple’s recent announcement that iPhone OS will support multi-tasking may in some ways enable this.

    Okay, sorry about rambling on and disconnectedness, but my brain may not be fully engaged yet…

  3. Does closed necessarily equate with usable? I know it is frequently an argument put forward to justify Apple’s approach, but it seems like an example of “framing” to me.

    That is, reduce the concept of “usable” down to one that is consistent with Apple’s marketing strategy (ie., it just works, it looks beautiful, etc.,) and then claim the high ground.

    I don’t find Apple’s products exceptionally usable at all; they tend to have a nice user interface, but that for me is really only a very limited part of overall usability. A closed device that I can only have limited access to doesn’t really appeal to me as usable – it is something that should probably be more accurately described as “convenient.” And we all now what happens when you blithely trade freedom for convenience…

  4. To be a Morlock, feasting on tasty Eloi.
    I hear they have no sense of self-perservation and taste just like Veal.

  5. It’s not even just their phones and tablets they’re so controlling on these days. See, for example, SourceTree’s explanation of why Apple’s sandbox requirement is driving them to abandon the Mac App Store: http://blog.sourcetreeapp.com/2012/02/16/abandoning-the-mac-app-store/ — “Fundamentally, sandboxing is a good idea. Asking applications to be specific about what they need to do, and exposing that to the system and users for validation is a good idea for security.

    The trouble is, the sandboxing implementation currently in place on Mac OS X Lion doesn’t allow for all the behaviours that real Mac applications do right now, behaviours which are not at all contentious, are approved in the Mac App Store already, and indeed are very much appreciated by users. Applications designed a certain way (mainly, those which edit documents on demand and don’t do much else) won’t have a problem since their behaviours are adequately catered for in the rights that can be applied for, but tools which perform more complex behaviour, particularly when that involves integrating with other apps and tools, do many things that simply aren’t catalogued in the sandbox.” This is likely why Atlassian Stash markets itself with a no-VM graphic and “Stash fits into your environment and doesn’t force you to use a pre-packaged appliance which you don’t have any control over.” — http://www.atlassian.com/software/stash/overview/enterprise-git-repository-management

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