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.

1 comment:

  1. Of course, it's unlikely that the doting parents thought (or hoped) that their daughter would sincerely grow up thinking that magazines are, in the literal sense, broken Apple products. What did they really intend to say, do you think?

    The revolution on offer is this: *We* think of the user interface of a tablet as a kind of interactive picture, because we experienced a world without iPads (or even ubiquitous computer screens in some cases). In terms of semantic constructs, there's a clear hierarchy; a picture is assumed to be a static image unless I add adjectives to the phrase or otherwise develop it. Basically, this static two dimensional construct of ink is the mental model we start with, and a great many technological wonders are mapped on to it conceptually to arrive at a subjective understanding.

    But this video shows us a human being for which this is simply not true. She is discovering, right before our eyes, that sometimes *image-things* are NOT modifiable with finger strokes. Sometimes, out in the world, one encounters a version of computer-screen that does not zoom or scroll; this is called a 'photograph'. They have different properties from the images she's used to, but humans are great innovators and she'll learn how to use them soon enough.

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