Sunday, June 17, 2012

Technology and our use of it as a reflection of who we are...

Because various computers in my house have aged, and because there's still things you can't readily do on a PC that you can do on a Mac after nearly 3 decades of Macs, I am the new recipient of an Apple iMac, so if this post isn't coming out the way to which you're accustomed to reading, let's just say I still don't have a few things figured out yet.  But they're not the important things to me.

There are things a PC does better today, but that's mostly because Microsoft still does things to privilege use of their machines. These are things like access of the Microsoft webmail client in Safari - though the "mail" application on the Mac handles it without incident.

But PC versus Mac isn't the whole point of this post, but it illustrates a recurring theme of this post, which is a continuation of my continuing musings on this article that appeared in February of last year about how Steve Jobs was able to capture the initiative in the consumer electronics market.

Other companies fail to do things because they've overlooked potential openings or are cutting corners to save money; under Jobs, however, every spurned opportunity is a conscious, measured statement. It's why the pundits who give Apple products poor reviews for not including industry-standard components -- for instance, the iMac's lack of a floppy drive -- just aren't getting it: Apple products are as defined by what they're missing as much as by what they contain.
To understand why, one has to remember that Jobs spent much of the 1970s at the Los Altos Zen Center (alongside then-and-current Gov. Jerry Brown) and later studied extensively under the late Zen roshi Kobun Chino Otogawa -- whom he designated as the official "spiritual advisor" for NeXT, the company he founded after being ejected as Apple's CEO in 1986, and who served as officiant when he wed his wife Laurene in 1991.
Jobs's immersion in Zen and passion for design almost certainly exposed him to the concept of ma, a central pillar of traditional Japanese aesthetics. Like many idioms relating to the intimate aspects of how a culture sees the world, it's nearly impossible to accurately explain -- it's variously translated as "void," "space" or "interval" -- but it essentially describes how emptiness interacts with form, and how absence shapes substance. If someone were to ask you what makes a ring a meaningful object -- the circle of metal it consists of, or the emptiness that that metal encompasses? -- and you were to respond "both," you've gotten as close to ma as the clumsy instrument of English allows.
While Jobs has never invoked the term in public -- one of the aspects of his genius is the ability to keep even his most esoteric assertions in the realm of the instantly accessible -- ma is at the core of the Jobsian way. And Jobs' single-minded adherence to this idiosyncratically Japanese principle is, ironically, what has allowed Apple to compete with and beat Japan's technology titans -- most notably the company that for the past four decades dominated the world of consumer electronics: Sony.

The author of the blog and Microsoft likely still don't get it. 

They don't get that a successful technology product is adapted to the way people are, and is useful to them where they are.  And it's not overly hostile to the environment.  It's deeper than that, too but I won't go further there.  What I will say is that so much problems are created by not taking these kinds of things into account in all aspects of product design.  The PC and the Mac are metaphors for how our society has approached things: the Mac, a "socialist" (or if that's too politically loaded for you "communitarian") version of the Way Things Could Be is highly integrated, (mostly) much easier to use than a PC, and works better.   A PC is made by outsourcing, and throws more power and Gigaflops at problems that result in mostly unappealing compromises for performance. 

On the Mac, if you open an ftp site, you know what happens? Folders appear on the screen.  Like they should. Try that with Internet Explorer, if you've never opened an ftp site.  To download and install Open Office on a Mac, it takes maybe 15 minutes with a decent wireless internet connection. Have you tried installing a new version of Microsoft Office lately?  Oh, and one is free and the other is what...$150 or $300 or something like that?

So it's a metaphor for how we should structure and unstructured, and interact with each other, which like many things is probably applicable in aspects of our life and families and communities beyond Stuff You Do With a Computer.

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