Despite being a paradigm of rationality, even the world of science is infested with enough stupidity to cause at least a one-generational time-lag before new theories and practices are fully accepted. So it’s no wonder that in the more twisted realms of politics, economics and religion, time-lags of thousands of years are considered normal. As far brighter folk than I have rightly observed, stupidity has murdered and imprisoned more geniuses, burned more books, slaughtered more populations and blocked progress more effectively than any other force in history. It’s probably no exaggeration to say that stupidity has killed more people than all the diseases known or presumed to be known.
While advances in technology have a remarkable potential for changing the whole way we work, live and view the world, you can bet that stupidity, coupled with the usual doses of greed and alpha-male power trips, will stifle its full potential for generations to come. Fortunately, from an evolutionary point of view, the more complex a system is, the greater its instability. And as we continue to become an even more information-rich society, instability could be a particularly positive antidote to complacent stupidity.
Recently Apple announced that music fans have purchased and downloaded over 50 million songs from the iTunes Music Store, and that iTunes users are now downloading 2.5 million songs per week. This means that music lovers are downloading songs at an annual rate of 130 million songs per year. Add to that the growing success of iLife, ironically branded the “Microsoft Office for the rest of your life”, and it would appear that Apple has grabbed the imagination of the more creative and fun side of computer users everywhere. But then again, we shouldn’t be too quick to underestimate the power of stupidity.
According to recent reports in In-Stat/MDR, Microsoft is fast becoming a significant player in all forms of digital content distribution. Whether it’s broadcast, Internet, DVDs, or video on demand, claims the report, Microsoft’s push into digital media has bought the company a seat at the table when it comes to discussing the direction of these various content channels. From its investment in Movielink, plans for online music, Xbox, the Windows Media Series 9 platform for delivering content over any network, its Digital Rights Management offerings, and Media Center PC initiatives, Microsoft is attempting to tread on Apple’s toes by doing business with those who control the creation and delivery of content.
Analysts now believe that the company’s goal is not to own a media empire, as recent speculation about a possible Microsoft bid for Disney would portend, but instead to have its hand in as many pies as possible through its end-to-end tools. This means that Uncle Bill will need to continue to make his evil empire, and hence its core products, look relevant by appearing to add value. Following a little too closely in Apple’s footprints, Microsoft and the PC industry are now working hard on the stupidity factor by attempting to position the computer – or, rather ‘their’ computer, as the central hub for the digital lifestyle and an electronic storage chest of entertainment content and photos.
OK… I know the Mac already does all that and yes, Apple CEO Steve Jobs has already reserved a place for the Mac in our digital universe. But we’ve seen the Redmond mob foist inferior products on the public before and we’ve seen the public lap it up. Although some content and consumer electronics companies are wary of becoming too dependent on Microsoft and are working to keep alternative technologies alive, Apple can’t afford to be complacent. Sure, there’s been some government intervention to curtail the Microsoft plague, as exemplified by a recent decision by a European Union advisory panel to punish the company bad-boys and potentially require Uncle Bill to extract Windows Media from the operating system. But we’ve seen how this digital vampire has dealt with government intervention in the past and there’s no guarantee that any legislation will wield a big enough stake to pierce its heart. That is, if you happen to believe that the company has one.
It would be nice to think that if human stupidity decreased there would be less opposition to original thinking and new approaches to old problems. It would also be nice to think that if stupidity decreased, less money would be wasted on imbecilities such as the arms trade, the so-called war on terrorism and other various secret-weirdie organizations, leaving more available for life-enhancing projects. But then again, companies like Microsoft have a lot of money to waste, which means that companies such as Apple have to remain vigilant. If Uncle Bill and his crew decide they want this market, they’re well placed to grab it – despite the quality, or lack of it, in their technology. And you can bet they will stick their hands – or anything else, for that matter – into as many pies as possible. Personally, I wouldn’t want a piece of a pie that Microsoft had stuck something into, but you can be sure a lot of people could be convinced that they did – no matter how bad it tasted.
Sometimes a good idea isn’t enough, even if you did have it first. Sometimes, while we’re waiting for evolution to kick in, stealing someone else’s idea and convincing people that they want it is sufficient. After all, as Voltaire said: “to understand the mathematical meaning of infinity, just consider the extent of human stupidity”.