The Green Shed


There is so much good stuff in this article by Alan Jacobs it feels like a failure to target a small bit, but I'm going to anyway.

Technopoly tells us that we own ourselves, and that everything we need to fulfill our own (unchallengeable) desires is available for sale in the marketplace. But of course this is a system that only works if what we desire can in fact be purchased; and since that cannot in advance be guaranteed, the initial imperative of Technopoly is to train our desires, to channel them towards what the system already has for sale.

And the greatest instruments ever devised for such channeling are our internet-connected devices, especially when we connect to the internet through apps. The reason? Because while pens and paper can be used in extraordinarily varied and unpredictable ways, apps can’t: the ways in which we can interact with them are determined with great specificity and no deviation from the designed user-interface paradigm is permitted. You can use a pen to write a poem in elaborate cursive, sketch a tree, play Hangman, or, in moments of desperation, scratch a mosquito bite or skewer a chunk of watermelon. (I am describing, not recommending.) With TikTok, you can … make TikToks. The app is so far the ultimate extension of what Albert Borgmann called the device paradigm.

I think this gets to the heart of something I've long felt, but struggled to articulate.

I love the tactile nature of hand-based UI. The direct-interaction with object-on-screen, the elimination of the indirection of the pointing device, and the thrill of haptics is a computer experience like no other. As others have said, these are the most personal computers we've ever had.

And yet, our interaction with them is mediated by, as Jacobs points out, these apps. These little emotional casinos, begging for our next coin of attention, neutered by App Store rules, subject themselves to protection payments in the way of a platform owner tax on each sale.

Contrast, as Jacobs does, the liberté of pen & paper: unmediated, uncontrolled, unlimited by another. Stark, indeed.

But even within the confines of the constructed edifice of computer interfaces we could have gone another direction with these devices. Openness, flexibility, and freedom were available. The technocrats, however, did not choose Liberty.

Every day if feels like a greater miracle that the Open Web exists at all. One that I don't want to take for granted.