I find it so curious the ways in which the technology we own controls us against our desires, by design.
- If you buy a new computer and you want to put music from your iPhone into your new iTunes installation, you’re prohibited.
- If you drop your phone in water, your device will tattle on you to the manufacturer via water damage indicators.
- Now that phones are the dominant computing platform, the majority of computer users don’t have root access on their own device.
- You cannot turn off your Tivo (short of ripping the cord out of the wall).
- Photo copiers deliberately misprint US currency via their programming.
When I grew up on computers, owning your own device meant you had total control. Don’t like your OS? Rip it out and install a new one. Want to run faster? Crack the case and start overclocking.
Increasingly nowadays, it feels like “ownership” is really just a license to use hardware in a certain way prescribed by its designers. Some (a minority) of systems of control are obvious attempts by manufacturers to serve their own interests (why can’t I install any software I download on the Internet onto my iPhone?). Most systems of control are set by design to make things easier for users: simplify options through sheer elimination (turning off your Tivo would cripple the end-user experience of passive recording). But even these systems of control with more benevolent intentions feel abrasive to me.
When I brush up the wrong way against digital systems of control, they feel like a nerfed blunting of an otherwise perfectly useful tool. I’m delighted that every major popular consumer technology has hacking subcultures that are constantly peeling back these nerfed-over surfaces and exposing the messy guts to those who are curious. These subcultures are always only a google search away, and they make me feel better, just knowing that they are there.