John Naughton tethers closed v. open:
Aldous Huxley and the iPad
Watching Steve Jobs unveil the Apple iPad, what came to mind was something that Neil Postman, the most influential media critic since Marshall McLuhan, once said. Our future possibilities, Postman thought, lay on a spectrum bounded by George Orwell at one end, and by Aldous Huxley at the other: Orwell because he believed that we would be destroyed by the things we fear; Huxley because he thought that we would be undone by the things we love.
As the internet went mainstream, the Orwellian nightmare has evolved into a realistic possibility, because of the facilities the network offers for the comprehensive surveillance so vividly evoked in 1984. Governments everywhere have helped themselves to powers to read every email or text you’ve ever sent. And that’s just the democracies; authoritarian regimes are far more intrusive.
Until recently, the Huxleian nightmare seemed a more distant prospect…
For the implication of an iPad-crazed world – with its millions of delighted, infatuated users – is that a single US company renowned for control-freakery will have become the gatekeeper to the online world.
The iPad – like the iPhone – is a closed, tightly controlled device: nothing gets on to it that has not been expressly approved by Apple. We will have arrived at an Orwellian end by Huxleian means. And be foolish enough to think that we’ve attained nirvana.