Futurisms: Critiquing the project to reengineer humanity

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Coding our OSes

A charming YouTube video is making the rounds, showing a very small child playing with an iPad, and then trying to get a magazine to respond to her finger gestures in the same way. My favorite part is when, with transcendent infant logic, she tests her finger on her leg, to make sure her finger is working properly.

Reasonable parents might disagree on the probity of giving such a young child an iPad to play with, but that is not where I think her proud parental units have gone most seriously wrong. Rather, their error comes near the end of the video, when a title comes up saying, “For my one year old daughter, a magazine is an iPad that does not work. It will remain so for her whole life.” Well, I hope not, because that would mean a profound lack of intelligence on her part. Those of us who grew up with TV on the rise and radio on the decline did not think of radios as TVs that did not work. (Although I would have to admit that, in my family, it was a truism that a TV was a radio that stole your imagination away.)

In reality, one imagines that all too soon this baby will learn to expect different things from different media; then she will at first be charmed by her own infant foolishness, but probably later change her mind and ask her dad to please not show the video to all her boyfriends.

The video concludes, “Steve Jobs has coded a part of her OS.” The misreading of the significance of what this child is doing is pretty typical of the common brand of techno-projection which observes a molehill and immediately projects it into a towering mountain. It is only useful to think about just how far things might go if we spend at least as much time considering why they might not get there.