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It was my idea to have an open-source connected home of the future. My scheme was accepted by brave new geeks, brilliant people, but mostly male. They gave the house, “Casa Jasmina,” my name: I am grateful for that, but the house is not altogether comfortable.
People are diverse and live in bubbles of limited human understanding. Men and women, poets, philosophers, musicians, architects, designers, engineers — we might try to classify them as idealists or realists — the people in cloud bubbles, or the people in ground bubbles.
Now, a project like Casa Jasmina — is it a hands-on, practical, maker’s project struggling up toward ideals, or is it a set of ideals searching for grounded realities that might prove that high concepts are possible?
Is it a house for the cloud-bubble people, those who invent their own cloud-world before crashing into the ground (or at least landing on it, now and then, to pick up supplies)? Or is a grounded launch-pad for aspiration, where the ground-bubble people assemble tools to reach for the sky?
How can a dream bubble become a real house? How can a “cloud” be a “platform”? Does your grandmother’s beloved chandelier have a role in a space station? What objects belong — not in the world as it is, but in the world as it should be?
When designers think “out of the box,” what box do they unconsciously imagine: an antique carved wooden dowry chest, or some translucent tinted minimal plastic box? We all have our bubbles and boxes, but how is a woman’s box that of a woman?
The “Internet of Things” is a platform cloud that is also a conceptual box. That is its nature as “the IoT”: it is a digital platform for software, it is wireless, computational and data-centered, and it is also a paradigm.
This is why, as I explored a kind of third road between feminism and design, an “Internet of Women Things” occurred to me. Could this “IoWT” become a generous place for conceptual projects, ideas and advice, for a sense of emotional beauty and purposeful living? Concepts like these are not often the first impulses for a technology project, but they generally last the longest.
The IoWT is something I saw in the fog, as a “cloud” that is also on the ground. The IoWT might even be an “underground” cloud in some way, of not just airy ideals but of suppressed female energies.
An Internet of Things cannot be merely by and for web technologists, for it embraces-and-extends not just “Things” but also us women, as well as children, or animals or plants, or robots… Right now, my strong belief is that “the IoT” is dangerously outside of women’s world-views. The IoT is so alienating, and so narrowly obsessed with today’s technical and economic needs, that it might well fail altogether. It would be a shame if its profound potential was lost for a generation, in a heap of failed, too-ambitious toys, as happened to similar tech visions such as Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence.
Women as much as men are responsible for technology, and we were major participants in the internet revolution, for good and ill. Women can’t be excluded from modernity by mentioning our chromosomes.
Even when the Internet of Things is under critical attack — for some just and excellent reasons — we should not allow abuses, crimes and accidents to create the rules. “Things” have always been troublesome, while the frontier “Internet” of the twentieth century is also showing its ugly side in seamy business practices, cyberwar and acts of repression.
Well, women know how to survive, and — at least I think so — even how to prevail. I have seen women dealing with wars, humanitarian crises, political and economic disasters. I personally outlived the Atomic Age and the Space Age, so digital fads and fashions don’t alarm me. The Internet of Things, that box, that cloud, that platform, is not beyond my comprehension. On the contrary, I have my hands on it, and I even have something like principles to offer.
And here are some…
1. Critical thinking
Since women are living actively in a men’ s world, a critical rethinking of the things already existing is necessary for upgrading the IoT, into the IoWT. Whenever people collide with tools engineered for the high-tech commercial ambitions of young white male 4 entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley, the results are often clumsy, ugly, tragic or farcical.
Women should not mistake design flaws for gender problems. Women will always be scolded as “bad drivers” if they have to drive oversized and overpowered tanks and tractors, and a similar unfairness and unfitness is baked into legions of historical objects and services, which are just not women-friendly. The devil is in the details, but critical awareness of the devil’s work is a feat that only the best of the devils can achieve.
2. Positive inclusion
The Internet of Things is the project of a technical elite that aspires to universality, so it needs to bring in a much wider variety of people, as participants not just clients. Women must be present and visible, but recent history already shows the very mixed political and social effects of the Internet on language groups, nationalities, ethnicities, regions and peoples.
The world of this decade throngs with frightened refugees, who have Internet but scarcely any “things” left to them. Refugees need bread and shelter first, but these primal needs, which any of us might have after a flood or earthquake, never seems to be any priority for those designing profitable IoT futures of closed-source tech ecosystems and marketing surveillance.
On the contrary, much IoT work is intently focussed on security, hostile exclusion, and physically and mentally-gated communities and buildings — structures and systems designed keep the unwanted, the alien, the dispossessed and the disconnected well outside the IoT barriers.
Human beings need more than roof and bread, points and clicks, to keep us alive and kicking. Where are the positive, inclusive forms of IoT that would keep a screaming two-year-old girl and her mother out of trouble on a broken road? The women who are really “outside the box” are the ones whose boxes have been bombed. How will their voices be heard, how can their visions be recognized?
3. Positive seclusion
IoWT needs a free space for women to meet and teach each other. Women cannot learn all they need to know about their own interests inside technical classrooms where the rules of a male world are long dominant.
When women gather in a space without male oversight, they have a coming-out. The rules change, their behavior changes; women find themselves in a different aesthetic, a moral code that subsumes centuries of female survival traditions, of providing food, cooking, clothing children, fighting sickness, keeping homes from decay and destruction. Much of this is conveyed in quips, jokes and homilies rather than rulebooks and algorithms; very often it is double-talk, since the sociality of the women-to women-world is not politically correct, or even necessarily good.
There are no parliaments reserved for encounters of women. They are gatherings that are un-historical, in a word. Whenever we read historical archives of state affairs and policy, we generally know that it describes and defines whatever was not done by women. But we don’t have records of what women did!
Even creative women professionals, when known as professionals, are generally known for their association with men of the same profession. Our historical predecessors are generally daughters, wives or mothers of some famous guy, touched by celebrity in passing because they are known for joint work. But those stories are not a female history of feminine creativity, it is a kind of spacey conceptual void where women are forever the pioneers, always unexpected interlopers in the world’s official doings, a dissident, often a witch.
These categories vanish when women are alone in the room, though. I’ve witnessed the strength and allure of this, within myself and with other women in small groups where I have been active, sometimes even active against my own will. Groups like the “Mothers of Srebrenica,” the survivors of a genocide who created an alternative women’ s court. Women raped in war in ex-Yugoslavia with their brave testimonies made rape in war into an international war crime, instead of what rapes had always been in the war histories, a footnote at best, a “natural consequence”, certainly known and feared by all women in war, ignored by law and men.
The Internet of Things has many issues affecting women that are never made explicit — some may be grim, but others may be marvelous. Ethics are aesthetics, the content is the form, so “positive seclusion” is not just an experiment, it has good results.
4. Politics and Policy
Women, who are the majority gender, are the world’s biggest oppressed group. They have experienced many and various systems of oppression, and they know that the Internet of Things could simply be another one.
Women on the Internet have long experience in stalking, prying, spying, doxxing, organized harassment and other invasions of privacy by technical means. They’re keenly aware of the insecurity of those who speak out or act up in public digital spaces, so privacy and safety are basic IoWT issues, not just as hardware functionalities, but as rights in themselves: women human rights.
The Internet of Things is advancing in a political era that includes Edward Snowden, Chinese persistent threat hackers, offshore bank leaks, terrorist militias, intelligence services and the titanic surveillance-marketing empires of Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft. So when we talk about “connected things” in the IoT, it necessarily means connecting things to these existing entities, and not just some ideal and abstract IoT “cloud.”
Women are subjected to some forms of surveillance because they are women, for instance, at the door of the abortion clinic, or for daring to go un-veiled. They have to fight for the control of their own bodies: our bodies ourselves. For a female celebrity, even a new hairstyle or choice of lipstick can provoke a viral uproar, a situation now increasingly prevalent as any tiny detail in some selfie can become part of a permanent database.
Orwell has already warned us about debasing public language and spiralling into a degraded dystopia. Totalitarianism is living memory, and we’re all paranoiacally aware of how bad things can possibly get. The wringing of hands is not enough. How can the Internet of Things actually improve the private lives of women, and make them more secure in their lived experience as women, rather than less so?
5. Just do it
Some times call for audacity and daring. Women haven’t always lived by the precautionary principle; otherwise there would be no birth-control pill.
In times of tumult, the last may be first. My mother was a teenaged anti-fascist partisan in Axis-invaded Yugoslavia. She used to boast that women in wartime were not delicate sissies, but revolutionary warriors first. Why, she used to argue, should a woman shoot herself in the leg with diffidence and self-doubt, when Nazis are actively trying to kill her? Sure, you as a woman combatant might be crippled in the line of fire, but the enemy might well miss. And the liberation won’t come by itself.
Women don’t emerge from the womb demanding liberation. They become feminists after experiencing frustration and discrimination. A woman doesn’t have to borrow trouble to find plenty of it, but the same goes for opportunity.
We do in fact live in a technical age, where most women are no longer confined to farmsteads, kitchens, churches and endless pregnancies. Technology and women’s emancipation are not identical things, but they are not in binary opposition, either. Because technology and contraception made 20th century revolutionary for women’ s emancipation. Physical strength no longer determined the division of roles and women’s “natural state” was no longer to be a pregnant all her now expanded lifetime.
The Internet of Things has the general flavor of the current Internet major companies and power-players, but the older spirit of the older Internet is not forgotten. The roots of the IoT are as old as electrical networks and telephone networks, where women were always users and participants. Female telephone operators are obsolete now, but there used to be armies of them.
The Internet of Things will also pass some day. New cultural spaces can never exactly reproduce the old discriminations; when you step outside the box you may build another one, but it’s never the same old box.
Why not meet in small groups and boldly build a thousand small boxes, and see what happens? An attractive approach!
6. Design Fiction
We can imagine things we can’t yet do. There is certainly no world peace, for instance, but women create and lead pacifist movements, and are first to clear the rubble whenever the war ends. They don’t do that with male rule-book style of abstract efficiency, but men often save their own bacon by listening and following women.
Gender equality and universal justice are also fantasies, but so is an efficient Internet and a perfectly designed and functional Thing. Every engineer knows the “AM/FM” distinction of “Actual Machines” as opposed to “Fantastic Magic,” so this should give women some poetic license for technological dreams.
So, why not invent speculative, conceptual objects from a woman’ s point of view? Envision and describe things and connections that have never existed before. They may be awkward or pretty, useful or useless, a luxury that becomes a necessity — or vice versa.
Design fiction, ‘fantasia al potere,’ suspends disbelief and makes the implausible more possible. Even traditional artists and artisans can refresh their work by imagining new roles for their work in conjectural worlds.
My favorite form of “design fiction” is not imagining entirely new things — very few real things lack precursors — but in redesigning objects from the heritage we already have. I love old things from our past, because I am sensitive to their emotional and aesthetic value outside today’s store shelves and webpages.
“Things” are just things, especially when they are too many, too old, broken, a useless burden, obsolete, dangerous, dysfunctional, and expensive. But those who know and love their things should have a power to redeem them.
A “lamp” is a thing for an electric power network, but it is also your grandma’s lamp which she used when breastfeeding your mom. Your grandfather’s wall clock is an accurate gravity-powered machine, but is also the presence in the household that played a melody for every fifteen minutes of your father’s childhood.
Find it in your attic, and repurpose it with a little help from your friendly geeks. Women do think differently, and whenever the technology box breaks and cracks a little, it leaks fairy tales of magic wands, self-driving pumpkin coaches and crystalline wearable shoes. Why sweep the cinders, why wait for some remote prince of technology to put that device on your dainty foot?
Workshops of design fiction can make a woman’s point of view explicit: why be patient at the dirty hearth instead of finding love and conquering a kingdom . It is an act of joy and hope to improve one’s dreams.
The atomic bomb was a fairy-tale creation — a monster, “Death, the Destroyer of Worlds” — but although we suffer from realities of our own invention, we also dream. “Technology is neutral,” so they say, as though technology were separate from our imaginings of it, and our mental models for it, our clouds and our boxes. But technology never is neutral, because, unlike nature, technology arises from dream-stuff, and there are no neutral dreams.
A house is a habitat, a home, a small world, an element of the social cosmos, a nursery and an asylum. A house is primarily the refuge of women with small children, and of the elderly. They who make the most use of a house, and who are most in need of housing, should have roles in creating and maintaining it.
Home technology, home domotica, should expand the agency of people dwelling in the home, rather than removing their creative power in the name of convenience or profit. The elderly are a steadily growing proportion of world civilization, a trend that shows no sign of declining, while the poor, as usual, are everywhere — or, at least, the poor are everywhere they are allowed to go. Children, the world’s new great minority, are fewer in number, alienated from adult sources of power, and even abused by unloving and abstract command-and-control systems.
Those are the needy people for IoWT: we must seek to protect their dignity and capability, empower them, and give them stakes in their growth to adulthood and their prolonged life. The economic crisis has endangered old models of real estate and housing, and the weakest members of society, who once had some obscure niches for survival, now see those places comprehensively commoditized and globalized.
We should not passively allow extremist economic models to instantly crush the character of neighborhoods and cities. This is an alienating process and a transition to nowhere, while the evolution of cities should be toward their deeper humanization and quality of life. Cultural strength and differences will determine the future survival of cities, not abstract electronic vectors of money and power, which spasmodically come and go.
Cities differ radically all over the globe, and standard electronic data protocols will not make the world flat. The way an Italian makes his own coffee is a sacred rite that should be enhanced rather than engineered away, and one should respect and cherish its differences from the way a Briton makes his tea. The way a Serb makes his bread with her own hands conveys a pride that a desktop bread-baking machine cannot grant to her.
Home automation is decades old and has failed many times, enough to fill a science-fiction museum with archaic streamlined pushbuttons. But lack of effort is not comfort, idleness is not wealth, and too many mouse-clicks, like too many butlers, can rob life of its intimacy and dignity. Networks and systems that connect in opaque ways, that camouflage digital decisions, can crash and burn in spectacular fashion; a thousand invisible computers can fail in tangled, thorny ways that a single one never will. When each thing chaotically hooks to a hundred others, what becomes of accountability? If we build human-free systems without an off-switch or an undo button, how will we stop when we err, how will we express regrets and make amends? If we hide from our own needs and desires in tangles of software, how will we even know that we have prevailed?
And now I have a last question, an open question, an eternal question, a no single answer question, to my CasaJasmina brainstorming.
Do you feel this gender divide as I do? I don’t lack for help from the capable male “Jasmini” but I need women to come to live with me, to talk with me. Thank you!
Jasmina Tesanovic in CasaJasmina
Torino April 2016
At first we had the “globalisation of balkanisation,” when balkan-style failed-state wars became global after September 11.
The modern trend, though, is the “balkanisation of globalisation.” The failed world order gets divided up by barbed wire into mentally gated communities, due to economic failure, floods of refugees and persistent terrorist attacks.
So the lonely position of the Serbian citizen of the 1990s is becoming universal. Our leaders from the nineties were indicted and found guilty in ICTY in The Hague, for committed war crimes, even genocides, but we can now perceive ourselves as universal, everyman figures. This month Radovan Karadzic, after eight long years of trial, was found guilty and sentenced to 40 years of jail. When he wasn’t liquidating unarmed prisoners in Bosnia, Karadzic was a colorful, sinister politician, a lousy poet, mad psychiatrist and a hustler new age guru. The only thing archaic about Karadzic today is his personality cult. Karadzic certainly has more villainous brio than the relatively faceless European and Pakistani youngsters who cruelly exploded kamikaze bombs in civilian crowds in Brussels and Lahore.
Even Karadzic’s defenders seem eager to rob him of his long-sought infamy and give it to someone else. His collaborator Biljana Plavsic, a 90 year old Bosnian Serb who served 20 years in prison and got out on parole, commented: it was actually Bill Clinton who orchestrated the Srebrenica massacre with the Bosnian government. It was a political deal, the truth will come out. Radovan Karadzic will outlive his sentence and be a free citizen again, just as I am.
Does that mean that I will see Karadzic, just as I see Biljana Plavsic, shopping in my market in Belgrade downtown. Will he be interviewed by all press, while rambling about God, justice and evil? Will Bill Clinton himself show up to shop in Belgrade, perhaps as the good-will ambassador of his wife the President?
In Europe the right wing governments are hastily building walls inside Europe so as to protect themselves against internal waves of civilian refugees from uncontrollable failed-state war zones in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan and so on.
In USA the Republicans are bringing dishonour with their polarizing, misogynist candidate Donald Trump, who demands a wall and attacks Mexican migrants, even though Mexican immigration to the US is historically low. This represents an American coming-out of the Mussolini-style “uomo piccolo piccolo”, the aggrieved and faceless man-of-the-street who opens his dirty heart and demands power to beat up the neighbors. It’s the Balkan recipe of the 1990s, a Milosevic media fantasy of conspiracy theories, mud-slinging, nationalist paranoia and profound, raging victimism, asserting superiority by demanding revenge for slights and a return of greatness.
I used to call this process “The Design of Crime,” because everybody was involved and made guilty: the greedy parties, the irresponsible press, the indifferent citizens.
But today I am calling this meta process the “humanisation of crime,” because it seems so universalized. These politicians, these criminal deeds, this lack of humanity or common sense is part of all of us. It is not an ideological tyranny with the face and a name of an alien dictator, or of The Other. The poverty, fear and rising discontent is simply everywhere globally, notwithstanding the race, class and sex. It is “failed globe” rather than “failed state,” a truly international shame and decadence of world disorder.
In Serbia we will have elections soon: the party that used to support war criminals and war crimes, have changed their credo, although not their veteran personnel. They have been in power for some time and are popular, so they will probably win even greater power in a month. As is customary with them, they are celebrating the anniversary of Serbia being bombed by NATO, which is becoming a kind of odd national holiday.
The fact that this has been so normalized is part of the humanisation of crime. The American people tolerate, and even celebrate, Trump’s naked, vulgar, dirty unspeakable truth and bad habits — they like the way he demolishes the propriety of political discourse with reckless lies, because it seems more human than the robotic rehearsals of the professional political class. Also very human is the fact that every party, in government or out, celebrates undeclared wars, civilian bombings, drone assassinations, targeted killings and terrorist attacks, whether they are victims, perpetrators, allies, opponents or arming both sides at once. The terrorists and patriots are the two faces of the same medal. Vladimir Putin’s covert-action “little green men” can easily be subverters of Ukraine and heroes of Syria, sometimes on the same newspaper page.
We, as a civilisation are finally sitting down to dine with our inner demons: they kill and we eat what they put on the plate.
Catholic Pope Francis washed the feet of Muslim refugees for Easter immediately after ISIS terrorist attacks in Bruxelles, but that was an unusually lucid gesture. In a twilight like this we must ask ourselves: what has become of our civil, skeptical, secular, scientific society? Where are our poets gone? What do our philosophers think, what do our futurists see? Where is our Cassandra conscience or our Antigone morality? What is our art — because our media stars and fancy gadget designers seem to offer no path to survival.
The basic moral ground seems clear to me: it’s among the world’s horde of sixty million refugees. These are our fellow moderns who are living bare life, from scratch. They are the ones “thinking outside the box” because their box is demolished. To become a refugee is really easy, because, trust me, in a balkanized globe that condition is for everybody and anybody. The breakdown of the moral opera we call normality will change its names and slogans, it can be called terrorism, or call it war, call it global warming, call it economic crisis, but in human terms it is the humanisation of crime. As everyday criminals, participants in a spreading evil, we become guilty fugitives within our own lives.
I’ve been on this path longer than some others, so I can see where it goes, but I refuse to lead. The road leads to nowhere, while the solution is to start anew with creativity and joy. We all-too-human criminals are never as good as we imagine we are, but we’re not that bad, either.
Lettera aperta a Sanremo, a tutti i musicisti con cuore profugo
Sono un attivista scrittrice serba sono sopravvissuta alle guerre balcaniche parlando con i profughi scrivendo le loro storie (http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780520206342) Sono stata profuga anch’ io .
Le guerre che ammazzano, le guerre che sono fatte in tuo nome, ma ti scacciano dalla tua casa/paese/vita rendendoti impotente/ invisibile/ esistono da sempre ed in ogni momento . Se non sono a casa tua saranno dall’ altra parte del
mondo. Come per esempio oggi per noi europei. Ci arrivano dall’Africa delle ondate di corpi sulle spiagge mediterranee, ci arrivano morti soffocati nei camion, e poi quelli piu’ fortunati arrivano vivi nei treni , in bus, a piedi. Gente come noi che pero’ non parla la nostra lingua e a volte non ha il nostro colore della nostra pelle. Possiamo aiutarli o meno ma non possiamo fare finta di niente! Non possiamo ignorare le testate dei giornali, le foto tragiche di corpicini piegati su se stessi senza vita, delle navi di zombi dell’ inferno, le code di gente disperata nella fuga verso il nulla, destinazione incerta/ ignota/ insicura/ pericolosa/ sconcertante…
Disperazione, paura, speranza, riso e lacrime, acqua e pane tra la maree di questa gente, senza identità, senza eta’ senza patria, passato o futuro! Li lega solo una certa solidarietà nel tentativo di fuggire la morte e l’ umiliazione. Alla fine del loro viaggio e’ la nostra solidarietà, di dirgli che valeva la pena il loro sforzo disumano, il loro dolore palese , i loro volti spesso impassibili dalla vergogna del proprio destino disumano.
E’ un urlo silenzioso che chiede aiuto, e’ un trauma che non dimenticheranno mai anche se i loro corpi vivranno ancora. Ma e’ un’esperienza che farà a loro capire altri profughi che saranno in futuro nella loro situazione. E’ un esperienza che alla fine unisce la gente diversa. Una volta che tocchi quel fondo non potrai mai ignorare il fondo stesso e la condizione dis/umana che la vita umana puo’ toccare. Lo stato di profugo ti isola dal ordine del mondo concepito come civilta’, civilizzazione, concetto della mente umana, dell’ uomo animale intelligente e emancipato. Diventi una non persona, non entita’, gente di nessuno , nomade senza scelta. Ci sono molti nomi per persone in quelle condizioni: spiazzati, profughi, rifugiati…eufemismi imprecisi per tutto quello che uno si sente.
Pero’ la gente sogna, sempre, non puoi fermare i sogni, l’ inconscio, il desiderio, specialmente nei giovani. I bambini che ho visto nei campi profughi ridevano e giocavano sotto quel sole spietato , con scarsa acqua nelle bottigliette di plastica nel parco della stazione di Belgrado. Erano siriani, arabi questa volta, ma me li ricordo di altre nazioni in altri posti al mondo! E’ una condizione che spersonalizza, come essere un militare, o un malato. Un anonimita’ da vecchi e bambini. Si puo’ fermare tutto, ammazzare tutto, ma non la creatività e la gioia. Nemmeno nei campi di concentramento!
Il mio appello e’ di aiutare questo potenziale di gioia di speranza di fiducia con la gente in Italia: di fare un Sanremo ground/underground nei campi dei profughi con loro e per loro Di coinvolgere musicisti per fare una serata bella/ felice/ energetica all’Italiana. Io ho fatto musica, un album pacifista (https://vimeo.com/album/2897534), ho scritto delle canzoni, vorrei scriverne altre con e per profughi con altri musicisti. L’ arte e la musica non nascono e non vivono in un laboratorio, in un studio e in una situazione perfetta di pace e benessere. L’arte e la musica appartengono a tutti e specialmente a quelli che hanno qualcosa da dire e condividere ma sono spesso fuori dalla luce della scena ufficiale, fuori dalla gloria prestabilita, dal fasto organizzato.
Faccio appello a tutti coloro che hanno buona volonta’ e cuore profugo perche’ aderiscano e aiutino il progetto Sanremo ground/ underground come possono e come credono. L’Italia e’ il mio paese di scelta per la sua cultura di vita, per la quotidianita’ allegra, per la tradizione artistica, per la commedia dell’ arte, per l’ arte della commedia, per l’opera, il canto lirico, la canzone …per la gente con cuore profugo.
Molti sono i valori che culliamo per il nostro futuro, quelli di fama, di gloria, di bellezza, di bontà , di felicita, di ricchezza, del benessere ecc…ma il valore più importante del 21 secolo e’ molto più onesto, semplice, emotivo e terra a terra. Si chiama la solidarietà. E la solidarieta’ e l’unica che ci può salvare tutti insieme per poi portarci ad’altre promesse personali!
Jasmina Tesanovic (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jasmina_Tešanović)
I was clumsy, and I spilled some beer on the keyboard of my Mac Air laptop, bought July 9, 2014. I immediately started drying my precious computer, overturning it, and my greedy Mac didn’t gulp all that much beer, but….
I knew that liquid spills can easily kill a laptop. However, this beer fatality was a first time for me. I realized that only luck has saved me in dozens of my plane trips and train trips, where a few seconds of air bumps or rail vibration might tip a plastic cup and immediately drown a precious machine, the ally and partner in my everyday life.
The Mac Air immediately went dark. In bitter days to follow I struggled to get it back on its feet from its alcoholic overdose. But the battery had shorted out and the motherboard was fouled beyond repair. The screen misbehaved like delirium tremens. Beer is not so fatal to laptops as sugary Coca-Cola, but even pure water can drown delicate microelectronics.
I managed to retrieve my precious files from the faltering hard disk and I migrated promptly to a new Mac Air, the same model, but running the latest version of the OSX operating system. The machinery was the same, but in the meantime Apple had “upgraded,” or rather transformed, its software.
Normally I am delighted with any new computer: the newer models are always faster, stronger, brighter, more responsive, and so on, as Moore’s Law ruled in my lifetime. But in confronting the new machine, for the first time in my long computer-using experience, I realized that my experience had not improved at all. I had spent a lot of money to become worse off than I was.
I am not young, and I know that I am a woman of habit. I don’t much like the work involved when I change my computers, my favorite websites or my trusted software applications. I am quite an apt early adopter, but I don’t tackle machines just for the geek thrill of mastering new technology.
I had once been a Toshiba PC user, but I migrated to Apple because of their better design and ease of use. But the design philosophy of Apple has changed now that they are one of the biggest and most profitable corporations in the world. They now design computers for the sake of a massive client-base, and especially, they design for the needs of their own colossal computational empire.
Because Apple is an empire, it has become imperious. It dictates terms now, because it knows its word is law. Every new version of my former darlings, the iPhone and Mac Air, is more bossy, less friendly, less aligned with my interests as a person and crammed with cruel little tricks and traps that suit the interests of Apple and its revenue streams.
In the case of the new Mac Air operating system, all the icons and type-faces have been uniformly pared-down in size. The Apple designers are looking for some software uniformity in their empire of mobiles, tablets, laptops and desktop machines. They want consistent performance, more obedience, less trouble. That makes sense for them, but not for me, because I can scarcely read the screen now.
After some diligent online research from people other than Apple, I came up with a work-around that allows me to get on with my life: I change the Mac Air’s screen resolution. Unfortunately this means that Apple’s imperious applications tend to fall right off the edge of the re-sized screen, and there is no warning that large parts of the software’s screen real-estate have become invisible to me.
If you dig around in Apple’s preferences, you find all kinds of “accessibility” settings for zoom displays, voice-overs, speech commands and so on. If I were really severely disabled, I would likely be grateful for these special-service niches in the Apple empire, but the truth is that this Apple “personal” computer is no longer personal to me. It’s Apple’s computer.
I might not notice these slightly fascist tendencies if I were sharp-sighted, fit, properly trained to the modern OS and also young and therefore unable to personally remember a looser, more democratic regime of computational life. But I will never be a marathon runner, and it seems odd that a computer technology is confronting us with biological handicaps just for the sake of consistent software design.
The user-centric approach was supposed to realize that nobody is perfect, we all are unique, we think differently and so forth, but the world’s richest commercial empire can no longer afford that idealism, somehow. Our personal differences, functional, legitimate and social, have to meet Apple’s needs on Apple’s terms.
I got philosophical when this sudden imperial discrimination struck me personally. Isn’t this a political result of my own engagement in following Apple products so trustingly, for so long? We may not love the general policies of modern computing, but what else is out there in the 2010s world of computer-industry consolidation? At least, if you pay Apple’s premium for Apple design, you do get more design than you get from Microsoft, Google and other laptop manufacturers. It’s not design created in your interest or for your convenience, but there certainly is plenty of it.
My disappointment with my new Apple machine hit me like an unrequited love. I felt unwanted in the empire of the perfect Apple clients; it was disconcerting, a sea-change in a relationship, like a thoughtful boyfriend who has become an aging CEO, and now thinks he can order you around. I felt like a fool for failing to realize that corporate ambition had always been biting Apple. Sure, once, in our youth, we were all creative visionaries together; but now Apple was a colossal global conglomerate, while I was one among millions of busy typists in the planetary secretary pool.
But that role didn’t suit me, so I decided to rebel. All my hidden resentments came boiling up. I found that I too, shared increasingly famous discontents with Apple’s behaviors. Alarming digital rights management, ferocious demands for passwords and credit cards, automatic fill-in of mailing addresses that don’t work and create embarrassments, an Apple cloud eager to suck up every stray scrap of my data, strange incompatible formats to lock me in, new senselessly expensive plugs that Apple forces me to buy as well as cheaper, far more useful plugs that Apple slyly removes, and so on, blah blah blah.
But the general rule is that an empire is dictatorial. Apple is not a federation, much less a democracy or some movement of bright-eyed geek hippies. They are narrowly judgmental, full of public impositions that suit their own palace intrigues, frustrating their subjects instead of gratifying, educating, and sharing the world with their peers.
It is obvious, and I will not live in denial anymore. I understand how the relationship got this bad, and can see my complicity in it, but this situation will not do, and this too will pass. I am not Apple, but Apple itself knew how to strike back in guerrilla fashion, and what they did to IBM can be done to them. If they want to become General Computation — replacing General Motors and General Electric — then the ground game of resistance is just as obvious as their temporary success.
I can remember when computers were inadequate, clumsy, unpopular, geeky, devoid of cachet and huge ad budgets. I survived wars and I saw Communism crumble, so why should I passively succumb to my everyday commodities? Why transform a necessity into a vice? Why make “think different” into “think different, like us, or else”? Why make “information wants to be free” into “information about you wants to be free to us”? Why follow a globalised world of internet possibilities in a spiraling descent into (mentally) gated communities of one-percenter secured paranoia? Non passaran!