You’re BOTH Wrong!

Now it’s time for me to dive into a field I’m woefully underqualified to discuss (but isn’t that the best part about having a blog?): Tech News Punditry.

Today’s topic: A flaming e-mail row between Valleywag’s Ryan Tate and Apple’s  Supreme-Dictator-for-Life Steve Jobs.  I know some of you won’t be bothered to click the link and read the original text, so here’s the recap:

On an otherwise typical Monday night, Valleywag’s Ryan Tate was watching a TV show on his DVR when he came across an ad for the iPad that referred to it as a “revolution.”  Tate thought the term “revolution” should be reserved for things that are, y’know, revolutionary, and not just super-sized versions of existing products.  Feeling a little too bold and incensed, Tate fired off what he thought would be a real stinger of an email to Steve Jobs’s (DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CORRECT ME WORDPRESS SPELL CHECKER!)  public email address, saying “If [Bob] Dylan was 20 today, how would he feel about your company? Would he think the iPad had the faintest thing to do with ‘revolution’?”  If Jobs were any other CEO of a major megacorporation, the story would have ended there.  We all know that he is not, however, and the story is far from over.

Jobs returned fire with an impressive spin-shot, declaring that Apple’s hardware/software/etc offers “freedom from programs that steal your data … that trash your battery.  Freedom from porn.”  He concludes with a twist on an old Dylan lyric, taking a final general dig at all things non-Apple.  At this point, an excellent and well-constructed argument for control and discretion at the user level instead of the manufacturer level could have been made by Tate, but was not.  Instead, Tate broke out the F-bomb and accused Jobs of petty vengefulness (or vengeful pettiness, whichever you prefer.)  From here the argument degenerated further on both sides, slowly looking more and more like the comments section on any given Youtube video (or any internet forum I’ve ever seen, for that matter.) Jobs plays the “you’ll support censorship when YOU have children” card, Tate rips on Time Inc. for their so-apathetic-as-to-be-offensive iPad integration, Jobs insists that anyone who doesn’t want to follow his rules doesn’t have to (but then they won’t be welcome in his market) and that 50 million Elvis fans can’t be wrong.  In his final salvo, Jobs insists that the news coverage surrounding the Jason Chen search & seizure fiasco is all “erroneous blogger reports,” calls his motives “pure,” and invalidates Tate’s entire right to argue by accusing him of  “criticiz[ing] others’ work and belittl[ing] their innovations” instead of “creat[ing] anything.”

Jobs and Tate’s argument ends there, but that’s not the only thing that fanned the flames of fury that drove me to write all of this.  Perhaps to nobody’s surprise but my own, the comments section for this article was filled with “Go Steve go!” and “You got served!” comments, awarding argumentative victory to Jobs based on the venomousness (venomosity?) of his put-downs.  I was taken aback.  Was there serving going on that I missed? It seemed to me like both sides were too full of themselves and too eager to resort to hack talking points for there to be a winner at all!    So to them (and to those first readers who commented) I say that you’re ALL wrong!

STEVE JOBS IS WRONG: Saying that your system is “open” because nobody is being forced to develop for it is just plain insulting.  Indeed, it’s up there with Facebook’s argument of  “you agreed to share all of your data with the world and e-marketers when you signed up (even though when I signed up, no one from outside my college could see my profile at all!)”  If you’re going to be restrictive, own up to it.  Actually say what you’ve been implying for years!  How refreshing would it be for Steve Jobs to flat-out state in one of his speeches, “You’re idiots, and you don’t know what’s good for you. We do, so we’ll make sure you can only access good things.  The other guys don’t look out for you like we do.  You can get bad things on their stuff.  Which would you rather have? Bad things? or Good things?” Apple fans would be as rabid as ever, and everyone else would at least give him credit for being honest and forthright.  Along those lines, saying that your OS offers “freedom from porn” is not only an offensive justification for draconian policies, it’s also false.  As many people have already pointed out, Safari continues to provide a steady stream of pornography to anyone who decides to search for it.  Until you lock down your web browser (and I can’t wait for the firestorm on THAT day,) you can’t claim “freedom from porn.”  And finally, the iPad is not revolutionary.  At best, it could be considered “evolutionary” in that it is an improvement on the functionality of the iPod Touch purely by virtue of its size.  To my knowledge, nobody called big-screen TVs, Cadillac Escalades, or Double Big Gulps “revolutionary.”

RYAN TATE IS WRONG: Come on, man.  I wanted to side with you.  I really did.  But you had the ball at the 10 yard line and you inexplicably whipped it into the stands!  It’s like you had an argument invalidation checklist:

  1. Reduce your salient points to the level of meaningless sound bytes.
  2. Get hung up on minor issues, especially ones where you don’t entirely disagree with your opponent.
  3. Drop the F Bomb.
  4. Accuse your opponent of acting on emotion instead of logic.
  5. Attack other parties not included in the argument.
  6. Mix-‘n-match your facts.

You had a fantastic opportunity to champion the notion that “freedom from porn” and from all other things against Apple’s ideology should be a decision made at the user level, not the manufacturer level.  Again, Facebook is guilty of similar abuses of power.  If users had proper complete control of who could view their information, public opinion of Facebook wouldn’t be as shaky as it currently is.  If Apple’s iProducts had a setting that let users decide whether or not to run Flash or third-party apps or even (gasp!) pornographic materials, most users would still likely leave it alone and be content to get only what Apple filters for them.  Those who weigh the risks and find them acceptable wouldn’t have to “jailbreak” their products and guarantee their eventual bricking when the next mandatory firmware update comes along (or even sooner, since I’ve heard Apple can remotely force-brick a jailbroken iProduct if they are inclined to do so.) Closed systems are unAmerican in their denial of free competition, and a savvy debater could easily argue that point.  In this case, Ryan Tate, you were not a savvy debater.  I hope you prepare yourself better before your next battle of words and wits.


Those who quickly jumped on the “Steve served you!” bandwagon must be seeing things through rose-colored glasses.  Jobs did not make a compelling case for his point of view in any way.  All of his arguments boiled down to either A) logical fallacies, or B) “It’s my way or the highway.  If you don’t like my products, you don’t have to use them.”   While the latter of those two is at least based in truth, it’s hardly a compelling position to take.  And please, don’t defend the “what have you done that’s so great?” jab, because that’s one of the most reductive and offensive ways to invalidate an opponent’s entire point of view.  To say that only people who have “created things” are allowed to question Jobs’s policies is to invalidate almost the entire population of journalists in the entire world.  Does a journalist create a news story, or do they just report it?  Does any critic ever create worthwhile works of information/education/entertainment, or is every professional criticism nothing more than a chance to “criticize and belittle” other people’s innovations?  Furthermore, would Ryan Tate suddenly be qualified to question Jobs’s policies if he made cabinets? Perhaps hedge sculptures?  What, exactly, is the criteria required to have an argument with Steve Jobs?  Apparently having written (or currently writing, I’m not sure) a book isn’t enough.   As someone who can’t be said to create anything outside of the odd painted pewter miniature figurine, I’m feeling more than a little threatened here.  Indeed, perhaps it’s time to end this post now, for fear of saying something I have no right to!


4 Responses

  1. John, this is a KICK-ASS post!!! This is the first I’ve heard of this argument, and you totally nailed it. I actually laughed aloud at the section on “good” vs. “bad”.

    And you are very much qualified to write on this topic. Very, very much. Please continue!!

    Great job!

  2. Thanks, MM! I’m glad you enjoyed it, and I appreciate the support. Hopefully for the sake of your entertainment (and to the detriment of my blood pressure) there will be more irksome tech stories in the future.


    Can I?! Because it is Jobs’ – without the second “s”. Because… It is. So there!

    Anyway, great post! I will say this: Steve Jobs doesn’t have to make a great argument to win it, though I wish he would (or would own up to the fact that his stuff is SO GOOD partially because it is, essentially, idiot proof; oh, and that the hardware rocks). He just has to be less obnoxious than the other guy, in order to score public “You Rocked!” points.

    It’s like the phone thing. Calling the cops? Having that “editor’s” computers all confiscated? Looks like a dick move. Can honestly be called a dick move! And then, Jobs’ e-mails to the guy asking for his phone back are released, and suddenly, Jobs’ dick move seems not so dickish on the grand scheme of how completely moronic and unprofessional the other guy is.

    What I would like to happen is for other people to stop going, “He’s an asshole! That means we can be assholes to him!” Because it leaves the taste that Steve Jobs is above it all and totally right, when really, the other guys’ glaring obnoxiousness just begins to obscure Jobs’ own issues.

    Now, I would like a post about the Adobe-Jobs fight, for I am too much an Apple fangirl to see these things objectively!!

  4. When I learned grammar, they taught me that any singular noun ending in an S still gets the apostrophe-s treatment when being turned into a possessive. I’ve heard rumors that both versions are now acceptable, but my way was right first, dammit!

    As for the “calling the cops” move, what made it a dick move was the fact that he didn’t go through due process to do it. That’s why those warrants are being contested right now. Hopefully his quest for vengeance won’t destroy Shield Law via precedent in the process.

    Here’s a micro-post regarding the Adobe-Apple fight: Both sides are equally right and equally wrong. Neither system is as open as they want the public to believe, and both have every right to behave the way they have (though some of the shots back and forth are a little childish.) If Jobs‘s crusade forces them to get their act together re: flash, so much the better. If it makes the world move to an open standard on HTML5, better still. I say let them slug it out. It’ll be the consumer who wins in the end.

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