The one great part about dualities is what the philosopher's of the dialectic call "the aufhebung", which is a German word meaning something along the lines of "overcoming", or "overpassing", or "surmounting". As the story goes, in a dialectic, or conversation of duality, first there is the Thesis: the first argument. Then, there is the Anti-thesis: the counter-argument. Then, at long last, there is the Aufhebung, when both arguments of the duality are surmounted, and a fresh Thesis can develop. This, according to some, is the way history makes progress.

I tend to think that history is a long continuum of basically the same theses and anti-theses, and although the wise guys who live on the mountain top (or on the Internet) see where the aufhebung SHOULD be, instead watch the rest of the world cycle back through the same problems again, and cackle to themselves, and stuff another handful of funny herbs in their mouth, and wave their genitalia at society.

Speaking of which, the espresso I'm drinking right now is excellent.

My partner, who is an artist/folklorist, is great to talk to, because she will often take the opposite of an argument that I will, but she will be coming from the perspective of an artist/folklorist, as opposed to my perspective as a writer/philosopher/atemporality-early-adopter, which are very similar, and yet still very different. For example, try and imagine orienting the Creative Commons anarchistic open-semiotic common property position with the arguments protecting the rights of native legends told by people who have never seen a tape recorder in their life. These sorts of theses and anti-theses, cast in example which are not the typical Internet Corporate Rights-Holder vs. Internet Mass User scenario, lead to some very interesting aufhebung directions, because they allow for a re-stratification of the old arguments, opening up new lines of escape from the patterns of thought that led us into the duality trap to begin with. You really see more about the basis of the ideas of the argument, and the bottom layers of the material the argument is MADE from. You can break past what you might think "property" and "creator" mean, and start getting at what "intellectual material" and "speech" might mean. For me at least, it breaks me out of the humanist and liberalist boxes, filled with mental traps about what "rights" and "property" and "freedom" supposedly entail, and the moral presumptions of each.

When I, against my better judgment, clicked on the links to Cory Doctorow's recent BoingBoing post about his righteous hatred for the iPad, and then the folks at Gizmodo's equally righteous and offended rejection of his hatred of the precious gadget, my duality warning light flipped on, and the Aufhebung klaxon began sounding. (Both are mounted on the wall right above my computer.) I knew they would start sounding. Of course. But it's like when you pull a fire alarm, and then you jump anyway when it starts ringing. You just can't help it.

I love Cory. How can you not? I don't need to extol his many virtues. I've never even seen the guy in person, and I can tell how he's just a generally nice, positive, devotedly idealistic guy. Or at least I am assuming he is. But man, does it ever kill me what a liberal he can be.

And I don't mean that in the knee-jerk, hey-I'm-not-actually-conservative-but-let's-be-reasonable-here category that Joel Johnson fell into with the Gizmodo response. Because, that's what people generally do when they hear someone take the liberal-or-death tact.

I mean it from the same point of reference I meant it all the years I've clashed with liberal protesters over their vegan-or-death, more-organic-than-thou, anti-sweatshop or nakedness, anti-globalization positions. And these are issues on which we AGREE. I think Cory is generally right. I think anti-globalization protesters are generally right. But they are just so locked in to their own argument, they are not willing to study the actual material of their argument any more. It's not that I care that Cory is supposedly "alienating his audience", or anything like that. I could care fuck all about alienating anyone. I'd just like someone to actually think for a moment, and then form an opinion from that, instead of just throwing the iPad (or anything else), on the Liberal-ization Meter, and seeing if the needle points to positive or negative.

So the other day, my partner and I were discussing Marina Abramovic's recent performance at the MOMA (which I believe is still going on). I did not see it, but my partner did, and she expressed annoyance at some of the actions of the other people who were there to see it. If you don't know Marina Abramovic's work, (first, go read about it) it is performance art heavily weighted towards creating reaction among the viewers. As we talked about it, our discussion came around to her famous/infamous Movement 0, 1974. Long story short, she put a number of items on a table, including weapons, and suggested that the audience do whatever they liked to her with the items. Climactically, one audience member did take the loaded gun from the table and pointed it at her head. Another audience member pulled the gun away from the person holding it. We posed the question of whether or not our reaction, had we been there, would have been to pull the gun away from the person pointing it at Maria Abramovic, because part of her art is the reaction of the audience members. We then discussed the ethics of intervening with other actions of audience members, on different levels of inappropriate or annoyingness, and then the set-up of the art piece, including museum staff charged with allowing people to do or not do certain things.

Regardless of what you think about Marina Abramovic or performance art in general, and I think this distills a very interesting aspect of human action involving other humans. Human action, like our dialectical conversations, are basically cycles of action and re-action. Even to respond to a person's action by doing nothing, is in itself an action, and an action that is engendered by the original action, and will in turn engender more action afterwards. This action could change, and be a progression, an aufhebung if you will, or it could repeat. Any moment is subject to this micro-analysis, not just those labeled as performance art, with Performer and Audience as concrete, defined positions.

Back to the damn iPad. I refuse to believe that Apple owes anybody anything. Nor to I think there is anything that a Consumer should or should not do. There is no moral ethic to action in a market place. There is only what you are trying to do. Apple clearly is acting with intention of furthering their business, in a particular model of what they think will succeed. Consumers, on the other hand, are not trying to do anything, or rather, are trying to do very different things depending on who they are, and making decisions that are not nearly as unified as a corporation with a very strong leader at its head. Not all of these decisions are rational, and very few of them are aligned to any sort of ethical or moral compass. When you put a moral compass onto this situation, and then accordingly try and walk in a straight line regardless of the terrain, you end up looking stupid. Cory's arguments sound sad, like he is simply pissed that this thing is going to sell because he disagrees with it. If it is really so useless, then no one will buy it. Or, the people who will buy it will end up in computer-user holes, and will stagnate. Only a liberal, staring at the compass in his/her hand, would believe that someone "should" do anything simply because of the position of an action according to a compass.

I look at Apple's products as performance art. If they want to post armed DRM guards in the room, it's their performance, so they can do what they like. It may make the art worse. Or, it may cause audience members to attack the guards, in order to view the art in the way they want to. But Apple will do what it wants to, and people will react. My opinion is, that most of this spectacle is for spectacle's sake, and to my mind, this is pretty shitty art. But I've always preferred art instillations in homes to diamond-encrusted skulls and formaldehyde sharks.

I hate the duality building between Consumer and Creator. This is a stupid duality, isolating each from each other. It takes away the fun of starting your own band, and the fun of jumping on stage during a punk show. I don't want to have limit my apps because I have an iPhone. And I don't want to have to learn Python so I can debug my Linux wireless drivers. Neither of these sides wins. And neither of the sides attempting to act or re-act with this duality wins. If you are a creator, you can only create for one or the other, and if you are a consumer, you can only consume one or the other.

I don't think a middle ground is the solution either--frankly, I'm unimpressed by the so-called "creator" tools anyone with an iPad will be able to use. Some of the best consumer programs I use on my phone are free, buggy, and generally "un-iPhone-smooth". This is pretty analogous to my experience as a computer user since the time I was six. It never works as easily or as well as you want it to, and the thing that would work better is too expensive to get, so you find a way to make it work all the same. I know a lot about computers, but can't program anything more complicated that Excel or a TI-83.

This is not a middle ground, nor is a solution. It is a continuance of the norm for me, as I've experienced it. Many other people will no doubt continue to find their own niches, whether it involves compiling Linux install files, or emailing their son/granddaughter for computer help. I doubt Apple's products will ever be as idealistic as they think they are, nor will they destroy any Maker/Computer club.

What I wish, however, was that people would stop acting according to the ideals of what they think "computers should be" and start designing them according to how they will be used. This means they would have to ditch the "target market" completely, because as it turns out, no one in the target market will use it the same. What if computers were designed for individuals? What if the actions of a computer were defined with a specific user's reactions in mind? I am tired of hearing that UI's are "slick" or "clean" or "complicated" or "easy" or "hard". UI stands for "user interface". Shouldn't the only thing a UI does is to interface with the user? Instead, they appear to be designed like performance art, craftily imposing certain reactions upon the audience, and "failing" when they don't engender the precise reaction they are supposed to. There is no moral implication of iTunes--but at one point or another, it has either satisfied or failed to satisfy every person who has used it. Each of the reasons should be studied, and included into the next release of iTunes. It may be impossible to satisfy everyone--but then you do not have a true UI. You have a piece of art that will either be popular, or will be unnoticed.

We are now at the point where people are so fascistically tied to a UI, they are neurotically afraid to leave it! The differences between UIs are so great, and we base our re-actions to a UI so heavily, we can no longer simply "use computers", but only use particular UIs! The UI is the computer for us, in a bad way. We have trained ourselves to re-act to the location of menus, rather than what the actions we click are doing. If we actually saw the Mona Lisa on the table in front of us, rather than behind armed guards and bullet-proof glass, would we know what it was? If we ran into Marina Abramovic on the street doing her food shopping, would we smile as we would to any other human being, or would be overtaken by the urge to say or do something meaningful in re-action to her person?

Luckily, for me anyway, computers are almost to a point, and my knowledge of computers is almost to a point, where I can build my perfect UI, and I won't have to hope that someone builds it for me and sells it to me. A computer is, in this age, an Interface to digital data. My perfect UI will actually be a network of computers and devices, allowing me to re-act to the world of digital data in the way I want to. It might include an Apple product or two, and it will also most definitely have a Linux product in it. This UI will be the most perfect freedom, regardless of whether or not I can share music online or lend ebooks to my friends, because I will be able to do everything I want to do when I want to do it. I'm guessing my perfect UI will never be complete, because there are new things I want to Interface all the time.

iPad haters, and Gadget lovers, can't we come together, and just build our interface? If Cory spent all the time he preaches against DRM offering free Linux tutorials online, I'd be a lot more free of a computer user. If Gizmodo spent all the time they spent fondling things that I can't afford connecting the dots between these consumerist nodes with actual usage practices, I'd love my gadgets a lot more.

New pearl of wisdom: All the world is art, and 95% of art is boring.


Matt said...

I'd like to suggest that the "perfect UI" you're referring to has existed for quite some time, and you used it to write and publish this post. It's based on standards that allow disparate devices to understand each other, and it is a non-hierarchical network where there are no real gatekeepers. It is, in fact, the very same tech that Cory Doctorow used to disseminate his ideas. :)

Jonathan Korman said...

What if computers were designed for individuals?

I submit that, substantially, all of Apple's products fit that description. I have been saying for quite some time that Apple is a company whose mission is to make toys for Steve Jobs, and it pays the exorbitant costs of designing, developing, and manufacturing those toys by also manufacturing millions of copies of those toys and selling them to other people.

Adam Rothstein said...

I think Matt kind of got close to it with his comment... the great thing about HTML is that while it was developed and implemented by corporations and other institutions with great sums of money and talent, now it can be utilized by anyone, for free, or nearly so.

Apple does spend a lot money developing computer products, but they got their start building computers in a garage, which is something anyone can still do. I don't think there is such a leap, in terms of "design" or "innovation", or any of those categories we ascribe to modern invention, with what Apple does today, that is so much more groundbreaking than the personal computer revolution itself. Apple does not customize their products, they offer a particular vision of "individuality", which many people would like to buy into.