Month: January 2010

5 (Bad) Reasons to Think the iPad Sucks

Yesterday Apple debuted its long awaited, much anticipated iPad. And the reaction around the web [hasn’t been what Apple probably hoped]( On the one hand, it’s easy to be disappointed when the reality of this astronomically hyped device doesn’t live up the second coming expectations, but it’s also worth nothing that many of the most common complaints are both trite and silly. I’ve rounded up five probably not great reasons to think the iPad sucks.

1) No multi-tasking. The trouble with this frequent gripe is that it’s unclear exactly what people are asking for. One way to read it is, “I want to be able to run two apps at the same time on the same screen.” With a UI designed around full screen apps, however, this makes little sense. So instead, the complaint could be that, without multi-tasking, you’ll have to quit the current app in order to quickly switch to another (a forced exit of iWork Pages, for instance, just to take a quick peak at Twitter). While this appears to be technically true, it likely isn’t from the perspective of user experience. If the apps are written to maintain their state when shut down, then switching from one to another, given how fast the iPad appears to be, will be indistinguishable from true multitasking. And, given that the iPad will support the same push notifications as the iPhone, you’ll still be notified of new email or tweets even when those apps aren’t running. About the only situation “no multi-tasking” precludes is listening to Pandora while surfing the web.

2) No USB. There is USB. You just need an adapter. While plugging an extra accessory into the iPad may be cumbersome, the trade off is that, when not using USB, the device is thinner and lighter. Given that most of us will use the iPad far more frequently by itself than we with with a digital camera tethered to it, thinner and lighter is probably a good thing.

3) No Flash. First, no Flash doesn’t mean no YouTube. Second, it doesn’t mean no casual games, as the App Store is full of those, many of them free. Third, no Flash has its benefits. No Flash was supposed to be the death of the iPhone too and, well, that didn’t happen.

4) No physical keyboard. There is a physical keyboard, you just have to plug it in. This strikes me as a fair trade off, as having a physical keyboard on the device would mean making it heavier and bulkier–and we know from using our iPhones that typing on a virtual keyboard is fast enough for most uses.

5) No Camera. Okay, this one actually seems legitimate. While the lack of a back facing camera is fine on a device that clearly isn’t meant for picture taking, no front facing camera is truly a bummer. Skyping from the couch would be cool and it’s too bad that won’t be possible with the iPad–at least until Apple comes out with the second generation in the next sixth months or a year.

Citizens United and Those Dastardly Labor Unions

The United States Supreme Court rolled back decades of campaign finance restrictions today, handing down a decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that

upends the court’s precedent that corporations may not use their profits to support or oppose candidates, and it rejects a large portion of the so-called McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act that the justices had declared constitutional just six years ago. It seems likely to apply to the political role of labor unions as well.

It’s that last line that’s most interesting when looking at the Internet’s reaction to the ruling. Twitter is buzzing about Citizens United, with “Supreme Court” a trending topic. I’ve been tracking the tweets off and on throughout the morning and they seem to take one of two forms. There are those–like me–who hail the opinion as a breakthrough for free speech and a vindication of the First Amendment. But there’s also a avalanche of tweets breathlessly declaring a new corporate age, when evil businessmen will buy elections and we’ll all be at the mercy of our fat cat, private sector overlords.

Almost nobody mentions the labor unions. I mean, if you’re concerned that the Supreme Court has sold America to General Electric and Exxon, why aren’t you also concerned that it’s handed our political system over to the UAW and the AFL-CIO? Corporations ultimately gain “power” (though what we really mean is “money”) buy selling folks stuff they want to buy. Unions, on the other hand, use the political process to force themselves upon the unwilling. Comcast may want to take over the world, but they have to do it without wielding the awesome legal might of the National Labor Relations Act.

The lack of concern about union money in politics, however, is yet another symptom of a broader problem in American political thought. Namely, we’re quite good at locating the problems in the political process (corrupt politicians and corrupting influences), but we tend to assume those only affect the other guys. When our guys are in control, everything is fine and corruption never enters the picture.

Thus we get the reaction to Citizens United: money from corporations spent promoting candidates or issues is “buying” elections. Money from unions doing the same is simply representing the will of the working class. While I think it’s wrong to see money spent on political speech as corrupting whether it comes from corporations or unions, we’d all be better off if we were at least consistent in our condemnation.

Communitarians Still Don't Get It

I continue to believe that the communitarian critique of libertarianism (or liberalism, as it is often called in political philosophy) is fundamentally flawed. As a system for understanding the role of the state, it is based upon misconceptions that undercut its whole mission and lead to the conclusion that communitarianism is simply authoritarianism with a prettier name. The responses to my recent blog posts on this topic have done little to persuade me differently. To give a sense of the problems common to these pro-communitarian arguments, I’ve reproduced my response to one of them below. In a cross-post of my article, “Communitarianism’s Fatal Misconception,” to the popular community news site, Newsvine, Adrian Thorn took me to task for failing to understand what communitarians say about liberalism. His comment is indicative, however, of a broader confusion within communitarian thought. My response to him–and to this line of communitarian reasoning–is as follows:

Thank you for taking the time to write this long and thoughtful response, Adrian. You make some interesting points, which I’ll respond to below, but I want to draw an important distinction up front, because I think it informs much of our disagreement about the nature of communitarianism vs. liberalism. Namely, I am interested in communitarianism as a political philosophy. I am interested in it as a normative theory of the state. It may be true (in fact, it almost certainly is) that we are better off as members of large and thriving communities than as social hermits seeking only our own pleasure. The crucial question in my mind, however, is not what sort of life is best for us (both as individuals and as members of families and communities), but what role the state ought to have in promoting that life. Communitarianism is quite explicitly a political philosophy, with communitarian philosophers making arguments about what government ought to do to change the existing order to one more communitarian. That is what I am concerned with.

… the Communitarian suggests that the inevitable and real-world outcome of such perspectives is in contradiction to its philosophical concepts, namely that in practice Individualism does not allow the evolution of social institutions and that the pursuit of individual becomes a detriment to society as a whole.

Here is a rather obvious example of the distinction between social and political philosophy. Liberalism as a theory of the state is not about promoting radical individualism. Rather it is about what powers the state may exercise over those who live within its borders (and outside its borders, but we need not focus on questions of foreign policy here).

Recast in that context, it is silly to say that individualism (read: liberalism) “does not allow for the evolution of social institutions.” Of course it does. The state had little or nothing to do with forming my family or friendships or extended community (aside from establishing a rule of law that keeps me safe enough from immediate harm that I have the opportunity to focus on developing relationships, rather than defending myself from attack and scrounging for food). I was either born into those or chose them. And how my friends and family and their friends and family interact in the large social institutions of life can be — and, indeed, is — a voluntary process. In fact, to choose but one example, the entire thrust of economics since Adam Smith is a study of how voluntary interactions within a free market create large scale and beneficial social institutions. The most vibrant, pluralistic, and friendly societies are usually found where government plays a smaller role. The Soviet Union was not known for its profound sense of community and social openness.

They are arguing in this circumstance that the creation of micro-communities fosters the development of conflicting cultures that in turn causes individuals to have less of a capacity to understand and identify with others.

This sounds nice when put so plainly. Of course a nation made up of countless tiny, gated, isolated communities would foster development of conflicting cultures. But what evidence leads you to assume that liberalism would result in such a world? Most people enjoy being part of large communities. Given the choice, they will opt to live in them. And micro-communities need not be exclusive. I am right now part of the micro-community of Newsvine contributors. I am also part of the micro-community of employees of the Cato Institute and members of the larger libertarian movement. I consider myself a community member of my circle of friends, my family, my town, the folks I went to law school with, my fellow students as an undergraduate, the people I grew up with, the readers of my novel, and on and on and on. Each is a micro-community and I interact with each on a regular basis. This is perfectly compatible with liberalism, with a minimal state. Freedom to explore a multitude of cultures and micro-communities has increased my capacity to understand and identify with others, not hindered it.

… the entire critique of Liberalism did not begin with their thoughts on government but rather the consequences of individualism on society as a whole.

But they move from their critiques of liberalism’s impact on society (critiques I find unconvincing) to making specific policy suggestions about the role of the state. Like I said, that is what interests me about communitarianism.

Never in your analysis does it cross your mind that the communitarian would deem popular support for communitarian ideology to be a pre-requisite for the implementation of their reforms. Rather, you have simply asserted the philosophy must be authoritarian by virtue of the fact that, well, you don’t support it.

What is popular support? Let us say that we took a vote in 1890 asking whether marriage between blacks and whites is socially beneficial. What would the result be? If there was broad popular support for the idea that miscegenation ought to be banned in the interests of community stability, what would the communitarian say about the state then stepping in to prevent a black person and a white person from marrying? What about the large communities that exist throughout the United States (and the world) that see gay marriage as leading to a break down of the social fabric? Are those community values acceptable to a communitarian? As a liberal, I’d assert that the state has no right to prevent two people from marrying each other. What argument can the communitarian make that gay marriage ought to be allowed, even in the face of popular opposition? Or do communitarians simply assume that community values will be decided by people like them, people who are nice and have modern, cosmopolitan values?

This is the fundamental problem with communitarianism. Who decides what the community’s values are? Who decides what’s good for the community? For that matter, who decides what makes up the community in the first place? Obviously, if everyone agreed that we shouldn’t engage in a certain behavior, then there’d be no need for the state to regulate it. It is only when someone disagrees that the state must play a role in enforcement. How big must the community be before it stops being micro and is of concern to communitarians? And where do they (where do you) draw the line on saying that the “community’s” decision about what’s good for it is immoral, unjust, and just plain impermissible?

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