According to author Thomas Pynchon, one popular method of resistance has always been to just keep moving – seeking not necessarily a secure place to hide, but rather a state of dynamic ambiguity about where one might be at any given moment. Think along the lines of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which states that it is impossible to measure both the position and momentum of a particle perfectly at the same time.
However, since modern digital technology has managed to focus the ‘blurred hyperellipsoid of human freedom down to well within Planck’s Constant’, the bad times often seem like more than just an interval when you find yourself in the middle of them. But as Steve Jobs said recently, sometimes the harsh lessons are only understood in retrospect when we “join up the dots”.
I know I’ve quoted a character from the novel Stone Junction called Smiling Jack in a previous column, but given the current level of sensational scare-mongering in the press – and the plethora of knee-jerk legal solutions being bandied about in a disturbingly anecdotal manner by various government ministers – I feel that we should all keep this quote in mind when considering what we may be asked to swallow in the not so distant future. “Outlaws only do wrong when they feel it’s right; criminals only feel right when they’re doing wrong”. And as proponents of the ‘theory of everything’ have suggested, perhaps what we should be testing are new theories that actually show some promise of explaining things better than the prevailing ones do.
The prevailing theory at Apple at the moment, despite its traditional ‘outlaw’ image, is that moving to Intel chips is the future for the Mac. Intel, in the meantime, has been strengthening its ‘criminal’ image to the extent that investigators from the European Commission and national competition authorities in several countries have mounted a series of ‘dawn raids’ at Intel premises as part of an inquiry into alleged antitrust activities. The raids are linked to lawsuits and complaints filed by Intel’s diminutive rival AMD, concerning the group’s allegedly illegal practices in maintaining its monopoly in the microprocessor market. Accused of “seven types of illegality across three continents”, the suits claim Intel uses worldwide coercion to dissuade customers from dealing with its competitors.
While worldwide coercion is undoubtedly the flavour of the month in most political and quasi-political circles, Intel maintains that these allegations are “poorly researched and false”. Then again, the same could be said for most of the political commentary and legal proposals currently on the cards, which are designed to undermine and decimate the concept and framework of personal freedom and informed debate. In both cases, the whole issue of worldwide coercion remains a subtext we will eventually be able to say very little about without becoming fully fledged outlaws. Intel’s chief executive, Paul Otellini, has stated that his company has always competed “aggressively and fairly” and that the
group has “always respected the laws of the countries” in which it operates. Not too dissimilar to the sort of flaccid rhetoric we get from the usual political and intelligence agency suspects these days, and just about as believable.
Expediency always has its place, but it also has its consequences. For me, Apple’s move to Intel-based chips sacrifices much of the company’s perceived coherence, elegance and simplicity for what can only be described as lashings of arbitrariness and complexity. Even the Mac’s lowly, but intuitive, single-button mouse has recently been usurped by the new Mighty Mouse. Heralded as a ‘two-button wonder’ it, coincidentally, also happens to be compatible with Windows 2000 or XP. Quantum physics suggests that shadows, in general, need not look like silhouettes of the objects that cast them, and this is not just a matter of blurring caused by penumbras. As the new kid joining an established club that already enjoys 80 per cent of the global market by volume and 90 per cent by value, the once unique Mac shadow may inevitably become blurred and indistinguishable from the Microsoft silhouette that stopped moving in any meaningful way a long, long time ago.
As David Deutsch observed in his book The Fabric of Reality, we know when we don’t understand something, even if we can accurately describe and predict it. We also know when an explanation helps us to understand it better. But it’s always hard to give a precise definition of ‘explanation’ or ‘understanding’ because roughly speaking, they’re about ‘why’ rather than ‘what’, about the inner workings of things, about how things really are, not just how they appear to be. I’ll leave you to ponder the ‘outlaw’ and ‘criminal’ conundrum for yourself – in this or any other situation where it may or may not appear to apply. But from where I sit, any sort of coercion that seeks to remove any degree of personal choice, expression or thought, needs to be resisted. Whether it’s instigated by fanatics, ‘lawful’ politicians, governments of whatever hue, or international corporations allegedly respecting the laws of countries in which they operate.
Personally, I preferred it when Apple looked more like the ‘outlaw’ (remember the pirate flag flying over the original Macintosh development building?) and exhibited a more creative state of dynamic ambiguity about where it might be at any given moment. I even preferred the sentiments of the grammatically challenged ‘Think Different’ campaign – either real or imagined. Despite the harsh lessons apparently only understood in retrospect, we’re still surrounded by a world of infinite possibilities, until we choose. And even when we choose, it doesn’t preclude the ability to choose again. As Steve Jobs said in a recent speech to Stanford graduates, remembering mortality is the best way to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to loose.
So maybe we just have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in the future and that the picture they form will still look something like the Mac we’ve all grown to love – without coercion. MW