Monday, 14 June 2010

Apple and Censorship (I)

I generally like the products of Apple. I'm writing this posting on an Apple MacBook, I have an iPhone (though one that will soon be very old indeed) and I recently bought an iPad. Their designs are great, they are easy to use, they work straight out of the box and they look and feel very "hip". What's more, they aren't Microsoft!

All of this marks me out as a fairly typical Apple customer since generally, once one has got into Apple you tend to get all their stuff and swear by them. Fair enough, even philosophers can develop brand loyalty. But recently something has been putting me off Apple and it's not the products or even the recent suicides at Foxconn, the Chinese enterprise that manufactures Apple products (along with Dell and Hewlett Packard). No, it's something that offends me even more than the dubious labour practices of the firms to whom Apple outsources.

What is this? The increasing tendency of Apple to censor and act as a moral arbiter. Recently a comic book version of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest was released which up-dated the story to make it more explicitly gay, included male nudity (though not genitalia) and even panels showing men kissing each other. Apple agreed to allow this comic book to be sold over iTunes but then censored the panels showing men kissing along with some of those showing male nudity. Amongst other things this reflected double standards on Apple's part who have allowed similar heterosexual scenes on comic books they have retailed. This complaint however is only part of the problem since if they had extended their censorship to heterosexual scenes they would have compounded the problem of censorship rather than ended discrimination.

Not only have Apple censored this new version of Wilde's play but they also recently censored a version of James Joyce's Ulysses, a work that suffered rather badly from precisely such responses during the 20th century. This again affected a comic book version which dared to show a scene of Leopold Bloom using the toilet. 

Apple have broadly defended the policy as concerned with "freedom from porn", a curiously similar defence to that adopted by the Chinese authorities when faced with complaints from Google. The Chinese authorities cited concerns about children just as Steve Jobs has done when challenged. It's heartening to find that Jobs agrees with the country in which most of his products are made that censorship is good since it helps kids. But perhaps, like Google, he should beware of the company he keeps and consider adopting the slogan of not being evil, the slogan that helps to explain why they left China and departed from practices that are far from enlightened.


Anonymous said...

Hello there,

I'm a long time reader first time commentor for this blog. I can sympathise with your 'anything but microsoft' attitude, and it is pleasant to see the fight for the computer industry dominance putting Microsoft; the former industry monarch, on the back foot with the likes of Google/HTC and Apple (also Sony if we are considering games consoles).

Apple is its own empire and problematic. You see when any computer company tries to claim predominance, they try to define how to think about computers.

My old theology professor once said that the most evil thing microsoft could do was tell you how to use proper english when you use microsoft word. My professor gave the example of putting some George Elliot into the document and it was riddled with 'errors'.

The iPad, iPod and iWhatevers make you think in a limited way, consider it in a form of a transcendental argument (since this is a Kant blog):

P1. I am using an iPad or such and such an app
P2. This application gives me an understanding that presumes the proper function of technologies for entertainment.

Technology is not a neutral thing, our internalisation of things like the GUI determine what we think of as the conditions of possibility for computation. Computers aren't necessarily a matter of one dominant operating system over another?

Consider pluralism, or open mindedness about third party softwares. It is the sign of an imperial monarch to resist the third party applications like adobe and flash. They want you to be completely consumed by them so that they own your mind as well as your pocket.

I think that the put down of microsoft will lead to a battle between Google and Apple; which in turn will be a fight between open source and proprietery software.

I hope open source will win. It has the values of the enlightenment. Sapere aude! Have the courage to use your own understanding.


Gary Banham said...

Hi Michael and thanks for the comment!
I agree with your general line, particularly with regard to the need for open source to predominate. One of the many problems with the iPad is precisely the way it is entirely Apple-locked, this is a problem despite it being fun to use! So committed am I to the virtues of open source that, as you may have seen from the previous posting, I am in the process of establishing a journal that is based on its values. Hope you will take to reading (and maybe even contributing) to that as well as to this blog!