Back in 1984, when the Macintosh 128K had just arrived, I wandered down to Chemung Electronics to take a look at this supposed upgrade from the Apple ][ world. The small screen seemed odd, and the keyboard kind of strange, but I played with MacWrite and MacPaint and poked around. It was okay until I asked the salesman, "so how do I write programs on this thing?"
He laughed - probably reasonably, since I was 13 - and said I'd have to buy that separately. They'd even have to special-order it.
I was shocked and appalled, and figured this was just a contraption for office drones. Why would I buy such a thing? It didn't even have expansion slots!
Four years later I was totally excited to be the proud new owner of a Macintosh SE. A year after that I'd found HyperCard, and started writing useful programs on it. A few years after that I was digging into Pascal and C. The allure of the command line pulled me away to Linux and Windows, but in 2001 I came back to the Mac because of OS X's Unix foundations.
Today, I find myself reading pieces from a lot of good people (Tim Bray, Alex Payne) who share the dismay of my 13-year-old self. How could Apple release a product so exclusively oriented to consumption, rather than production? How could they limit the kind of content that can get on to this device? Why would anyone buy it?
I've disliked Steve Jobs for a long time - for Apple's ferocious assault on Franklin, maker of my clone computer, for the weirdness I felt around that early Mac, and for his killing HyperCard, the software that made me appreciate the Mac. I find the cults of secrecy and control at Apple obnoxious and repellent, and I'm especially unimpressed by their crusade against replaceable batteries.
At the same time, though, I can't find these charges that the iPad is an assault on creativity to be coherent. There are lots of reasons, even beyond their ability to remind me of myself at 13:
- Lots of people have told me that they don't actually want a computer in all of its creative glory. Some of the functionality is great, perhaps, but too much functionality is overwhelming. Even all of those connectors are far more than they need.
- Even among the people who welcome the complexity of computers, computers aren't necessarily the place where they want to use their creativity.
- Creativity finds outlets. I suppose Apple could kill any attempts to build something like HyperCard for the iPad through their control of the App Store - but there's still the Web, and I don't think they can shut that down.
As much fun as I have picking on Apple, and as much as I worry that our obsession with consumption can impair our ability to produce, I just don't think these arguments hold water. Even consuming content in a new context will, I think, spark more creativity than this device can suppress.