I dislike Apple. It’s not that I prefer Microsoft, but rather that I have ethical problems with their business model. Apple is what is called a “closed system” meaning you can only use Apple approved products and software in an Apple approved way. When you buy an Apple product, you are buying into their system. You are required to use that product how they tell you to use it, and only with software they allow you to use. It’s their playground, their rules.

The benefit to having a closed system means that Apple knows all the variables when it comes to designing and building products. This way they can guarantee that what you buy will simply “work.” Microsoft and Linux systems are open (for now). It is possible that you can buy a piece of computer hardware that will not work with your computer, or a piece of software that won’t run on your computer. This is less rare nowadays than in the early days of computing, but Apple’s closed system “idiot proofs” things.

And that’s the problem. Apple assumes their users are idiots when it comes to computers. You’re not allowed to change anything in their closed system because you might mess it up. Unfortunately, Apple’s success shows that the masses of humanity are perfectly happy to have decisions made for them. “I don’t understand how this new technology works and I don’t really care to learn, so I’m going to surrender my will to you, and in return you’re going to take care of me and make things just work.” I honestly have no sympathy for people with that attitude, and I’d be lying if I said I don’t take smug satisfaction in their suffering whenever the technology breaks and they’re helpless.

Call me crazy or old fashioned, but I believe that when I buy something I own that thing. If you are selling shovels and I give you money for a shovel, then the shovel I get in return is then my shovel; to do with whatever I wish. Yes, I can dig a whole with that shovel, but you do not have the right to tell me I cannot also shovel snow, or move coals, or even use the shovel as a paddle in a boat. It is my shovel.

I feel the same way about technology.

If I buy a computer, or a copy of a software program, I then own that computer or copy of a program. Just like the shovel, I should be able to use that however I want. If I want to open the computer up and change the components, then it is not the computer seller’s place to tell me I can’t. If I want to close a program or run it at a specific time, it is not the program’s place to tell me I can’t use it as such. Unfortunately, controlling how you use a product you purchase is a blossoming trend. It has even spread to cars and coffee machines.

At the heart of this fight lies the age old battle between “top down” systems of control and more democratic systems of interaction. You can see this fight just about everywhere. One high-profile example is the current fight between Internet Service Providers and the public. The ISPs are often also content providers. They want to be able to control the infrastructure to favor their content over competitors. The internet is so revolutionary and dangerous because it’s the most powerful technology for democratization ever built. That’s why governments and companies are fighting so hard to control it. The internet gives average people extraordinary power to communicate ideas, to explore concepts, to start new economic projects, and to create their own content. When you represent the old world systems of control, nothing is more dangerous.

Innovations and advancements happen when people copy, tweak, and expand on ideas. To do this, they must be free to experiment with things. Yes there is the risk that you could break the computer you bought while experimenting on it, but you only learn through mistakes. Closed systems don’t allow for experimentation, for learning, or the possibility of advancement. They only benefit the owners of those closed systems and the established power structures.