I’m a PC: Why Transhumanism will Fail
Macs: solid, expressive, beautiful, ergonomic. PCs: buggy, nerdy, clunky, boxy.
The brilliance of the Mac myth is that it’s self-reinforcing because it is steered by the great strength of Apple: smooth and stylishly geekish control of the message. It’s monolithic and sleek, and folks either love it or love to hate it.
Within this simple marketing dichotomy lies two camps of computer consumer culture and the root of transhumanism’s ultimate FAIL.
Apple of course has it’s problems. The box is locked down so tight that even loyal users have jailbroken iPhones to get the kind of apps they want, and to get the kind of hardware (bluetooth pairing with wireless keyboards, say) that they want instead of settling for just what Apple sends down the tubes at them. You’re not meant to tinker with Apple’s stuff. After all, it “just works” so why bother?
And PCs have a great many boons hidden beneath it’s flaky crust of power-user nerdom. You can tinker with hardware. You can add more RAM to the motherboard. You don’t have to use the default Windows OS. Like to run Ubuntu on a partitioned drive? PC’s have no built-in bias against that. But they don’t always “just work”, and PC use encourages, perhaps, a slightly more advanced level of computer user… which is another way of saying that it may discourage less-skilled users.
Transhumanism is becoming appropriated in fits and starts by popular consumer culture, and because it is about integrating technology deeply into human lives, it will fit into one of two rough modes — it’ll either be Mac or PC.
PC transhumanism is empowering. It’s for tinkerers and body-mod types. It’s for folks who don’t mind a bit of self-hack, who aren’t shy of needles, and who don’t get queasy over blood on their soldering irons. The problem (and it’s a big problem) is that PC transhumanism requires a lot of technical know-how. Could you install a wireless locking arphid system into your forearm? Would you be able to toggle channels between your phone’s bluetooth headset and the RF in your debit-grommet? Maybe so. But most folks will want something simpler, something pre-stamped, something intuitive that they don’t need a technical manual to make work properly. Most folks will opt for Mac transhumanism — which means they’ll be left out of their own innovation. If Mac-types were to get very serious about this stuff, maybe they’d be bothered to pop some kind of Cydia analog into their own bloodstreams. We can hope.
Mac transhumanism is easy. It’s slick and stylish and smart. It’ll actually sells itself as it becomes a symbol of social status. The pearlescent labret jewel with the tiny zirconium Apple logo? You know, the one that transmits your lat/lon to OpenSocial and funnels coupons from shops near this BART stop to your inbox? C’mon.
But Mac transhumanism is iTunes only. You take what you get, you don’t make changes, you don’t hack it without losing your warranty. Those pushing the services will have no liability for irregular heartbeats or newly-developed stutters should you break the Terms of Service. When you’ve got ghost pixels floating in the bathtub, you’ll know you should have kept the apple whole.
We’re faced with two transhumanisms. One is for power-users in bad flannel armed with Abso anti-static wrist straps and clip-on light pens (these, by the way, are the people who make the world work). The other transhumanism is for the twee peeps who’d rather design and shop than arrange a set of socket wrenches (theirs is a white-on-white future written in iOS, laser-etched laptop echoing the oceanic theme of Gucci wallets or the latest Ben Harper album art).
Neither future works. The PC people aren’t the greatest communicators, and Mac culture doesn’t like dirt under its fingernails. Now here we’re in danger of oversimplification, of course, and might repeat the mistakes of C.P. Snow in spelling out “two cultures”. But oversimplification and grand exaggeration are illustrative.
Transhumanism, then, if it’s an enterprise of promoting civil liberties by encouraging the free (as in freedom) use of advanced technology in our daily lives, has a lot of work to do.
Neither PC nor Mac culture is able to do what needs to be done with transhumanism, but it ends up in one of those two boxes. And for all the punditry and gushing about the techno-social singularity, we’ll all be downloading Goo upgrades through iTunes and bitching about EULAs like we bitch about photo-enforced traffic tickets.
Get used to it. The future runs on a Mac.