Infinite Loop 5: “Microsoft, Apple and Human Freedom.”

We have been contemplating the ad
campaigns of Apple and Microsoft. They are summarized
by two slogans as we all know: “Think Different,”
and “Where do you Want to Go Today?” Companies
adopt slogans to produce certain mental associations
in the consumer’s minds. They should be positive
and/or humorous associations. But after thinking
about them, and how, in fact, both companies act
in light of their slogans, we are convinced that
each assumes a different theory of human freedom.
We think this also explains the difference in
people’s experiences with each platform.

In this essay I will outline the
theories of freedom involved, give some examples,
and then show how each company assumes one of
these theories. Philosophers have long contemplated
human freedom and whether we possess it, or at
least to what extent we do posses it, if we do
at all. “What are the nature and scope of human
freedom?” they ask. The answer has repercussions
for human dignity and worth, morality and punishment,
and the kind of beings we, humans, are. There
are basically three different answers.

First, one can deny that we have
human freedom. This is called determinism.
It is the view that the choices we have are well
beyond our control. That is, what you had for
breakfast this morning was not up to you.
What was it up to? The state of the universe long
before you were born determined what, in fact,
you chose for breakfast this morning (including
your parent’s genes, and their parent’s genes
and so on, things you had no control over, and
the laws of nature). If you were to choose freely,
then you break a law of nature; but such laws
are immutable and cannot be broken. So you are
not free. This does not mean you must have Frosted
Flakes, since there may be none where you are,
but that given a choice between Frosted Flakes
and Cheerios, you must choose Cheerios given the
state of the universe at that time and your material
make up.

Libertarianism or indeterminism
is the second view of human freedom. This is the
view that determinism is false (obviously). So
we have robust human freedom. How robust? All
things considered, very robust. Our actions are
“uncaused” in the sense they are not caused, in
fact, they are spontaneous. Given that you had
the option of both Cheerios and Frosted Flakes
this morning, which you had was up to you and
not the state of the universe before you were
born. Philosophers try to capture this intuition
by saying you could have done otherwise. Given
any choice we are presented with, say between
doing A, not doing A or doing B, we can choose
one without constraint or compulsion. Because
it’s up to me I can do otherwise: I have real
options stretching out before me at any point
in time as I create the future with my choices.

Compatibilism is the third,
and final, view of human freedom we will examine.
This is the view that determinism may be true,
but it’s irrelevant to our freedom.. That is,
determinism and human freedom are compatible.
How can this be? Because, say compatibilists,
freedom does not require being able to do otherwise.
Philosophers try to capture this intuition by
saying freedom requires only being able to do
what we want, all else equal. You might not have
been able to choose Cheerios over Frosted Flakes
this morning; but as long as you WANTED Frosted
Flakes then you are free. No one MADE you eat
them after all. It does not matter where our wants
come from; all we need to know is that we are
doing what we want without being forced to it.

We will set aside determinism for
now because it does not impact our discussion
directly. Concentrating on the other two theories,
I want to give a theological example to make them
(hopefully) clearer.

Most of you know the problem: God
ultimately knows and causes everything. If he
ultimately causes everything then he ultimately
caused you to have Cheerios too. And if he knew,
from eternity, what you would eat this morning,
and because God cannot have false beliefs, and
you cannot cause him to have false beliefs by
your actions, you must eat what you did.

Theologians and philosophers have
struggled with this because they do not want to
deny either that God causes and knows all or that
we possess human freedom. Both are important.
Indeterminists then say that because our choices
are spontaneous they are not caused by anything,
so they cannot be caused by God either. So God
causes and knows all and yet we are free. Compatibilists
say that God knows and causes all, but this is
compatible with human freedom. God might have
determined what I had for breakfast, and he might
have given me the wants and desires I have. But
as long and I am doing what I want and not being
coerced to do it, then I am free. So the debate
goes on.

It is our contention that Microsoft’s
ads assume compatibilism and Apple’s ads assume
indeterminism. And it is really obvious if you
think about it. Thinking about is what we will
now do . . .

Microsoft Compatibilism

The compatibilists s whole theory
rests on the assumption that we need not be able
to do otherwise to be free. As long as I am doing
is what I want, that is sufficient (or jointly
sufficient with other conditions) for freedom.
So being able to do otherwise simply is not the
issue. Do you see the point? Consider, “Where
Do You Want To Go Today?” Microsoft wants
to know what your wants are. They will help you
do anything you want. They are here to help you
achieve what you want in life. That is why they
pack their software (sometimes referred to as
“bloatware”), with feature upon feature . . .upon
feature. No one can really foretell what everyone
wants, after all, so why not make a program that
can cover every conceivable want people might
have? So they add all the bells and whistles.
You name it they can do it. (And thus, the inherent
conflicts within their own software packages,
for people have contrary wants.) I have even heard
of people doing greeting cards in Excel! Anyway,
as long as you can do what you want then they
assume you will happy, and you will be happy with
them. And then, they will be happy. And if you
are happy, they are happy (part of human happiness
if satisfaction of rational wants and desires.),
then everyone’s happy and world is a better place.
Oh, and by the way, just don’t ask about being
able to do otherwise. Just determine what you
want and, they say, we can satisfy you.

This is what a monopoly is all about:
Not being able to do otherwise. The Gates gang
made a strategic decision when they began Microsoft:
If one controls the OS he controls all. And they
were right. The OS is foundational. All other
programs are built on the OS environment. So if
one builds a proprietary OS and it wins the day,
then dependency is fostered and being able to
do otherwise becomes an illusion. Sure, we can
still do what we want. If I want to do desktop
publishing in Word I can. If I want to build a
database in Office, I can. If I want a presentation
with charts, tables and essay, I can do it. I
can do it all. I just cannot do otherwise.

I said in Infinite
Loop 1 “Speaking the Unspeakable”
that some
do not choose a Mac because they feel they have
no choice . “It’s what we use at work so I have
to get one,” they say. But, I am thinking of smaller
things here. Anyone who uses Word knows what I
am talking about: Auto Formatting is but one example.
“I don’t want a numbered list darn it! Stop doing
that!! Put that back! Don’t turn that URL into
a real link!!! And get that stupid cartoon computer
off my screen!!!! What an insult.” It’s the small
things. Sure, some of them you can take care of
in Preferences and Tools. But it’s not easy. In
a recent review of a prerelease of Explorer 5,
a Mac columnist is annoyed at he called the “lack
of user freedon” incorporated into the new version.
But assuming I can figure the settings out I might–might–find
what satisfies my wants. But not always.

The lack of freedom is found in
other dimensions of our life, too. In our philosophy
department everyone else has PCs. They can give
me disks which I can open on my Mac. But, it is
nearly impossible for the reverse to occur. I
use DataViz
MacLinkPlus, and they need Conversions Plus. Fortunately,
I have been able to get by without having to use
a PC much there. I can do otherwise, they cannot.

And then there is the university
web services. No one knows anything about the
Mac. I wanted to upload from home on my Mac. After
many failed attempts and talking to some in the
theology department who gave up, so did I. Perhaps
there is a way to do the things I needed, but
as long as we all think they cannot be done that
is enough for making it so. I couldn’t do otherwise.
One administrator even said, years back, that
they do not recommend Macs to anyone. I do all
my serious work at home now because there I have
more freedom. The point of this is that if I have
different wants then I am stuck on the outside.
I feel doing what I want is not enough. I want
to be able to do otherwise. I desire robust libertarian
freedom. I wish to “Think Differently.”

Apple Libertarianism

And then there is Apple. While watching
Steve Jobs at the last MacWorld Expo I began to
see how libertarian freedom worked itself out
in OSX. “If you don’t want the drop shadows on
the widows, you can turn it off. If you don’t
like this then just do this. Or do this.” Lots
of clear, unobtrusive options. In Steven Levy’s
book “Insanely Great: The Life and Times of the
Macintosh” he talks about the long discussion
at Apple trying to decide how many times the menu
should blink when one scrolls off of it. It was
decided that three is best, but they allowed the
user to change this to 1, 2 3, or none. They allowed
the user to be able to do otherwise. And think
of the new colored Macs ad iBooks. We have six
choices (Blueberry, Grape, Lime, Strawberry, Orange
and Graphite). These are real options. They appeal
to wants of course. If we don’t want Blueberry
we can buy a Lime. Even KidSafe, Apple’s new filtering
system for parents, is predicated upon taking
freedom away from children, for not allowing them
to do otherwise. (And sometimes taking freedom
away from children in this sense is a good thing
if it teaches them self-control.) We, the parents
can do otherwise, though.

Thinking Differently assumes being
able to do otherwise. Apple is saying, “Instead
of doing what you’re doing, do something different.
Act otherwise, not just from your own habits but
from what others do.” There are proprietary elements
in Apple’s portal strategy. No Mac? No OS 9? No
iTools. But think about it: Thinking different
and libertarian freedom means that we recognize
others will do otherwise. That’s what freedom
is all about. If one does otherwise, that is,
chooses not to join iTools or buys a (God forbid)
Compaq, that is to be expected. In fact, it may
even be desirable. Why does Apple say that it
is happy with its market share (besides for PR
reasons)? Because they know people will do otherwise.
If not, then why even talk about thinking different?
Their proprietary bent assumes doing otherwise.

I have not argued for any theory
of freedom here. As a philosopher I have been
thinking about it for fifteen years and have not
arrived at a conclusion (though I have my hunches
about where the truth lies). I don’t even argue
that Microsoft and Apple have consciously adopted
any theory of freedom. Jobs, with his strong background
in philosophy, knows what determinism, libertarianism
and compatibilism are I am sure. All I have done
is applied my craft to this particular case. Philosophy,
or philosophical assumptions, underlies most everything
we do and say. Many do not realize it, true. It
is my job as an educator to get them to realize
it. But, once these assumptions are pointed out
they have the remarkable quality of reflecting
what is in our souls, or even the soul of a company.
They seem familiar once they are pointed though
we hadn’t thought of them before. They seem familiar
because they underlie so much of what and who
we are. I think it is clear that both ad campaigns
assume a theory of freedom, and perhaps even both
companies do as well, without realizing it. Once
we point this out so much of what the companies
do comes into focus and sounds familiar. Think
about it . . .


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