On April 3, 2010 Apple will introduce iPad. And you'll see why 2010 will be like 1984.
Does that sound familiar? It should. It's a riff on the original launch statement for the Apple Macintosh, where the announcer famously said, "you'll see why 1984 won't be like 1984."
Although Ridley Scott's brilliant 1984 Apple commercial is the stuff of legends, it was shown 26 years ago, probably before many of you were even born. Given our recent discussion about how Apple seems to be limiting what we all can read and do on the upcoming iPad, I thought it'd be instructive to revisit the original commercial and see what lessons might be learned.
What I found was even better. I found a six minute segment (displayed at the end of this article) with a very young Steve Jobs introducing his famous take on George Orwell's 1984.
In the video clip, you'll see the young Steve talking about our freedoms in his introduction to the commercial, then you'll see (and hear) the actor David Graham in his role as Big Brother. When you juxtapose both the young Jobs and the commercial itself over today's realities, the contrast is disturbing.
Jobs describes Apple, "... as the only force that can ensure ... future freedom." He then asks:
"Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry, the entire Information Age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"
Why are we making such a fuss about this?
As a society, we may be at a cusp, a point where we're transitioning away from a mixed print/digital world to one that's predominantly digital.
Book publishers, newspaper publishers and magazine publishers are experiencing unprecedented revenue compression and are looking at transforming their businesses away from print as a factor of mere survival.
If Apple's iPad has the effect on our print reading matter in the way iTunes did on our music consumption, Apple could wind up the dominant channel by which we get published "print" information.
That's why the issue of Apple picking and choosing what we can and can't read is so disturbing. If they're forcing magazines to edit their contents in order to get distribution, then whatever Apple's then-current (and thus far completely arbitrary) rules would determine what you get to read.
It might even determine the political, religious, or ideological slant of what you're permitted to read.
Because Apple has indicated that it intends to censor published works that it distributes digitally and because Apple has been absolutely non-forthcoming about any details, we as members of the press are, essentially, obligated to point out what's happening.
The coverage we're providing isn't just about another product announcement. It's also a possible red-flag alert, letting the technical readers of this site (and, by extension, the people you all influence and advise) about a possible threat to our freedoms, not through government mandate, but simply by the overwhelming power of the market force of one company, playing Big Brother to us all.
Up until this point, no other mass-market computer has so restricted what you can run on it. Vendors have always picked and chosen what software they'd sell through their own stores, but consumers could always make their own choices and independent developers could always produce products not approved of by the computer vendor.
The iPad is a computer where everything you see and do must be pre-approved by faceless, gray-suited, unreachable drones at Apple. You can argue whether the iPad is a small computer or a big phone, but it really is a general-purpose computing device. It is a computer.
Apple is not only dictating what software you can run, but they've apparently decided to filter every single piece of content you view on it, whether purchased from Apple or through another source, like Amazon or Zinio.
Bashing Big Brother
That brings us back to Anya Major throwing her hammer into the works.
Big Brother's words are a little hard to hear, but if you read them, they'll give you chills, especially in light of the censorship we're exploring with Apple and the iPad. Here are those words, courtesy of Wikipedia:
Today, we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives. We have created for the first time in all history, a garden of pure ideology. Where each worker may bloom secure from the pests of contradictory and confusing truths.
Our Unification of Thoughts is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth. We are one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause. Our enemies shall talk themselves to death and we will bury them with their own confusion. We shall prevail!
Is Apple promoting a Unification of Thoughts? Are they purifying information? Is the iPad going to be a garden of pure ideology?
I had a sociology professor once who told me to be careful what I choose to fear, because many of us become what we fight most against.
In the video, Jobs talks about being the only force protecting us from Big Blue. But instead of protecting us from Big Blue, has Steve Jobs turned Apple into Big Brother?
Video note: This old piece of classic video isn't broken, but the first 25 seconds are dark and silent for some reason. Once you reach second 26, it's a fascinating look at what was then and what is now.
Has our young, idealistic Anakin been seduced by the dark side? Has Steve Jobs become Darth Vader? You be the judge.
Disclosure: the author derives a small personal income from Apple iPhone applications.