I've never liked Apple. No, that's not true. A very long time ago, in a small room at the University of Rochester's Goler House, we were treated by Byte magazine editor Carl Helmers to a preview of the "Apple 1" computer. As I recall it was a prototype, not much more than a circuit board attached to a cassette tape recorder. We were blown away and walked out of that room with a strong desire to invest. Alas, that was not possible. When Apple finally went public, it was already popular and far too late to get in on the ground level.
That meeting was the last time I liked Apple: I've since been turned off by their "our way or the highway" attitude and what I considered to be strong-arm tactics. I miss the early days of personal computing, where there was lots of competition. It wasn't long, however, before Microsoft became Apple's only reasonable competitor, and started using strong-arm tactics of its own.1
To take just one example: WordPerfect had long been my word processor of choice—indeed, it was the first to have that name, rather than "text editor," and I was thrilled. That's when the writer in me really began to take off. I had no reason to leave it, except that Microsoft's Word took over the world, and I adjusted to the switch. I still like most of Microsoft Office, though I've seen no reason to advance beyond the 2010 version. But eventually I tired of putting all my eggs in one basket, especially since Microsoft was moving to a subscription form of Office, which I had no intention of buying into.
So what did I do? I began the process of moving most of my work to Google Docs and Google Sheets. If they didn't have everything I liked about the Microsoft versions, they were good enough. And it was handy to have everything accessible and shareable online.
Ah, but it is Google. The little underdog I had enthusiastically supported last century has become a monolith. The wild-and-crazy upstart has become The Man. I'd had warnings before that it was not what it appeared to be, thanks to some inside information from a friend of a Google employee. But it was when they took over YouTube that I really started to dislike Google. Not for any particular reason, but simply because it gave them still more power.
Once upon a time there were many social media platforms. Now Facebook, Twitter, and Google (through YouTube) control and define the world. I've never been all that upset about what they call Big Data. It's mostly seemed about advertising, and I'm fairly resistent to that. But now it's beginning to feel more sinister, and I realize that with the kind of power that amount of data confers, there's a lot more at stake than my puny purchasing power.
Short of physical superiority (think being on the wrong end of a gun barrel) or spiritual authority (think being on the wrong side of someone you believe has the power to condemn you to hell), is there any more dangerous display of raw power than the control of information? Is there anything more dangerous to those in power than free access to information? Ask the Catholic Church what the printing press did for Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. Ask our Founding Fathers how the written word fueled the American Revolution. Consider the effect of Twitter and cell phones on the Arab Spring. Now, in the Information Age, it is more true than ever that Knowledge is Power. And he who controls the availability of knowledge controls us all.
I know there must be limits to First Amendment freedom of speech. The classic example is that we are not free to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater. I personally think "freedom of speech" is severely degraded when it is used to justify cross-burning, flag-burning, and obscene and/or hateful art and literature, though there's a long history of acceptance of that argument. What is arising now, however, is something much bigger and much more dangerous: suppression of reasoned, rational political speech, with the Powers that Be setting themselves up not only as the arbiters of what thoughts are allowed to be expressed, but specifically of what is truth. Whether these Powers are a repressive government, a monopolistic educational system, media outlets that conflate fact and editorial opinion, or an oligarchy of information technology companies, we've moved into the Red Alert zone.
It takes a certain amount of courage to give people the power to sift through competing ideas and make up their own minds about an issue, but it is the price of freedom.
David Freiheit is my new favorite Canadian lawyer.2 He makes legal issues more understandable; I love hearing a Canadian perspective, especially on American politics; and he's usually calm and reasonable. I like what he has to say about this issue in the following video. Start around 4:10.
If you give them the reaction [they are trying to provoke], all that you do is play exactly into ... their hand, and you in fact further aid them in the pursuance of their ultimate objective. There are ways to usefully protest and to usefully object, and there are ways to counter-productively object and counter-productively protest, and if one succumbs to the counter-productive methods of protest, not only are they going to be further from achieving their own goal, they're actually going to assist their adversary in achieving their goal. And that is something that too few people truly appreciate, is that it's not a question of rolling over and accepting the unacceptable; it's a question of fighting it in a useful manner that does not actually compromise your goals and further the goals that you don't agree with in the first place.
It's not a slippery slope; it's a free-fall.
Freiheit records his videos in some unusual places. In this one, he's ice fishing, and I kept getting distracted by the thought, "Aren't his hands freezing?"
1There are those who will insist that Linux remains a viable, independent choice. But practically speaking, for most of us, it's too technical to bother with.
2I recommend many of Freiheit's videos, but as with most online forums, from YouTube to our local newspaper, I recommend avoiding the comments. Anywhere there are unmoderated comments, the crazies will come out.