From Zizek’s Trouble in Paradise, pg 57. This isn’t necessarily the case but it’s a claim that holds true in the absence of personal tech skills and a disposition to  exercise then:

The paradox is that, the more the small item (smartphone or iPod) I hold in my hand is personalized, easy to use, ‘transparent’ in its functioning, the more the entire set-up has to rely on the work being done elsewhere, in a vast circuit of machines which coordinate the user’s experience. The more our experience is non-alienated, spontaneous, transparent, the more it is regulated and controlled by the invisible network of state agencies and large private companies that follow their secret agendas.

From Battle of the Titans loc 1056:

From his office on the second floor of IL 2 on Apple’s campus, Forstall started pulling in some of the best engineers from around the company, creating lockdown areas all over the building as he went. “If you were working weekends, you’d see the construction crews come in all the time putting up walls, security doors … everything … so that by Monday there was a new lockdown area. I’ve never seen walls put up that fast. Looking back, it’s almost comical to think about,” said Shuvo Chatterjee. “As they reconfigured, some of us were moving almost once every two months. For a while, I just kept everything permanently in boxes because I knew if I unpacked, I’d have to pack up and move again right away.” “It became a maze,” Nitin Ganatra said. “You’d open this door and the previous door would close behind you. It was Sarah Wincester-y in some ways.”

From Battle of the Titans loc 543. I’m intruiged by non-disclosure of non-disclosure agreements: why stop there? Surely this could be grounds for an infinite loop? More seriously, I wonder how this effects the framing of the proposition to potential staff: is there a performative element to this in order to convey the importance of the project? How is this received by staff?

On top of all that, Jobs’s obsession with secrecy meant that despite being exhausted from working eighty hours a week, the few hundred engineers and designers working on the project couldn’t talk about the project to anyone else. If Apple found out you’d told a friend in a bar, or even your spouse, you could be fired. Before a manager could ask you to join the project, you had to sign a nondisclosure agreement in his office. Then, after he told you what the project was, you had to sign another document confirming that you had indeed signed the NDA and would tell no one. “We put a sign on over the front door of the iPhone building that said FIGHT CLUB because the first rule of fight club is you don’t talk about fight club,” Forstall would explain in his court testimony. “Steve didn’t want 22 to hire anyone from outside of Apple to work on the software, but he said I could hire anyone in the company I wanted,” Forstall said. “So I’d bring recruits into my office. Sit them down and tell them, ‘You are a superstar at Apple. Whatever you are doing now, you’ll do fine. But I have another project that I want you to consider. I can’t tell you what it is. All I can say is that you will have to give up untold nights and weekends and that you will work harder than you have ever worked in your life.”

Loc 558 discusses the role that the performance of secrecy can play in drawing demarcations within Apple:

One of the most obvious manifestations of Jobs’s obsession with secrecy was the growth of lockdown areas all over campus—places that those not working on the iPhone could no longer go. “Each building is split in half, and there is this corridor that runs through the middle of them with common areas, and after one weekend they just put doors around the common areas so that if you were not on the project, and you were used to using that space, it was now off-limits,” Grignon said. “Steve loved this stuff. He loved to set up division. But it was a big ‘fuck you’ to the people who couldn’t get in. Everyone knows who the rock stars are in a company, and when you start to see them all slowly get plucked out of your area and put in a big room behind glass doors that you don’t have access to, it feels bad.”

I wrote last week about the notion of ‘business for punks’ propounded by the founder of BrewDog. This little snippet from Battle of the Titans reflects a similar ethos. Is Silicon Valley full of people who understand themselves as ‘doing business for punks’: is this the ethos underlying a commitment to ‘disruption’? From loc 333:

Jobs was personally offended 11 by this way of doing business and wanted no part of it. “We’re not the greatest at selling to the Fortune 500, and there are five hundred of them—five hundred CIOs [chief information officers] that are orifices you have to go through to get” that business. “In the cell phone business there are five. We don’t even like dealing with five hundred companies. We’d rather run an ad for millions and let everyone make up their own mind. You can imagine what we thought about dealing with five,” he said during an onstage interview at the All Things D conference in May 2003. Translation: I am not about to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to have a bunch of suits tell me how to build and sell my phone.

The assumed meritocracy of appealing directly to the public is counter posed to the stuffy intermediaries with a vested interest in established way of doing things.

From Battle of the Titans, loc 113-127. This dynamic seems likely to intensify with time:

A lot of what we buy via Apple’s iTunes store—apps, music, movies, TV shows, books, etc.—doesn’t work easily on Android devices or at all, and vice versa. And both companies know that the more money each of us spends on apps and other media from one store, the less likely we are to switch to the other. They know we will ask, “Why rebuy all that content just to buy an Android phone instead of an iPhone?” Many companies have free apps that work on both platforms, but even having to redownload them, and re-set them up, is enough to keep many users from switching. In Silicon Valley parlance, it’s a platform war. Whether your example is Microsoft with Windows and Office, eBay with auctions, Apple with the iPod, Amazon with books, Google with search, or Facebook with social media, history suggests that the winner in fights like this gets more than 75 percent of the market share, while the loser struggles to stay in that business.

From Jony Ive, by Leander Kahney, pg 104:

Jobs aimed at making innovative products again, but he didn’t want to compete in the broader market for personal computers, which was dominated by companies making generic machines for Microsoft’s Windows operating system. These companies competed on price, not features or ease of use. Jobs figured theirs was a race to the bottom. Instead, he argued, there was no reason that well- designed, well- made computers couldn’t command the same market share and margins as a luxury automobile. A BMW might get you to where you are going in the same way as a Chevy that costs half the price, but there will always be those who will pay for the better ride in the sexier car. Rather than competing with commodity PC makers like Dell, Compaq and Gateway, why not make only first- class products with high margins so that Apple could continue to develop even better first- class products? The company could make much bigger profits from selling a $3,000 machine rather than a $500 machine, even if they sold fewer of them. Why not, then, just concentrate on making the best $3,000 machines around? The potential merits of Jobs’s strategy for the company finances were clear. Fewer products meant less inventory, which could have an immediate effect on the bottom line. In fact, Jobs was able to save Apple $300 million in inventory in just one year, and avoid having warehouses full of unsold machines that might have needed to be written off if they failed to sell.

This new Apple would be built around industrial design, replacing the older engineer led culture which had solidified at Apple since Jobs had been forced out of the company. From page 105:

Jobs’s plan for Apple was more than a matter of B- school economics: he planned to make industrial design the centrepiece of Apple’s comeback. Since his first incarnation at Apple (1976–1985), it had been apparent that design was a guiding force in the trajectory of Steve Jobs’s life. Unlike Jony, Jobs had no formal design training, but he possessed an intuitive design sense that dated to his childhood. Jobs, early on, learned that good design wasn’t just on the exterior of an object. As Mike Ive had been for Jony, Jobs’s father was a formative influence on his son’s appreciation of design. ‘[My father] loved doing things right. He even cared about the look of the parts you couldn’t see,’ Jobs recalled. His father refused to build a fence that wasn’t constructed as well on the back side as it was the front. ‘For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.’

For Jobs, design amounted to more than appearances. ‘Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like,’ Jobs famously said. ‘People think it’s this veneer – that the designers are handed this box and told, “Make it look good!” That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.’ 6 With the development of the Macintosh, Jobs got really serious about how- it- works industrial design, which he believed could be a key differentiator between Apple’s consumer- friendly, works- right- out- of- the- box philosophy and the bare bones, utilitarian packaging of early rivals like International Business Machines.

This entails a very specific orientation towards design. As Ive describes on pg 115:

‘As industrial designers we no longer design objects,’ Jony said. ‘We design the user’s perceptions of what those objects are, as well as the meaning that accrues from their physical existence, their function and the sense of possibility they offer.’

One which contrasted markedly with their competitors in the PC industry. From page 115-116:

The computer industry ‘is an industry that has become incredibly conservative from a design perspective,’ he said. ‘It is an industry where there is an obsession about product attributes that you can measure empirically. How fast is it? How big is the hard drive? How fast is the CD? That is a very comfortable space to compete in because you can say eight is better than six.’ 22 But Jony offered a key insight: ‘It’s also very inhuman and very cold. Because of the industry’s obsession with absolutes, there has been a tendency to ignore product attributes that are difficult to measure or talk about. In that sense, the industry has missed out on the more emotive, less tangible product attributes. But to me, that is why I bought an Apple computer in the first place. That is why I came to work for Apple. It’s because I’ve always sensed that Apple had a desire to do more than the bare minimum. It wasn’t just going to do what was functionally and empirically necessary. In the early stuff, I got a sense that care was taken even on details, hard and soft, that people may never discover.’

From Jony Ive, by Leander Kahney, pg 101-102:

Much was about to change in how Apple was run, beginning with the product lineup. When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, the company had forty products on the market. To appreciate the baffling nature of Apple’s kitchen- sink strategy at the time, consider the company’s computer lineup. There were four main lines: the Quadra, the Power Mac, the Performa and the PowerBook. Each was split into a dozen different models, which were delineated from one another with confusing product names straight out of a Sony catalogue (for example, the Performa 5200CD, Performa 5210CD, Performa 5215CD and Performa 5220CD). And that was just computers. Apple had branched out into a wide- ranging product portfolio, selling everything from printers, scanners and monitors to Newton handhelds. To Jobs, this made no sense. ‘What I found when I got here was a zillion and one products,’ Jobs later said. ‘It was amazing. And I started to ask people, now why would I recommend a 3400 over a 4400? When should somebody jump up to a 6500, but not a 7300? And after three weeks, I couldn’t figure this out. If I couldn’t figure this out … how could our customers figure this out?’The product line was so complicated that Apple had to print elaborate flowcharts to explain to customers (and as a cheat sheet for employees) what the differences between Apple’s products were.

After several weeks, during a big strategy meeting, Jobs had had enough. ‘Stop!’ he screamed, ‘This is crazy.’ He jumped up and went to the whiteboard. He drew a simple chart of Apple’s annual revenues. The chart showed the sharp decline, from $12 billion a year to $10 billion, and then $7 billion. Jobs explained that Apple couldn’t be a profitable $12 billion company, or a profitable $10 billion company, but it could be a profitable $6 billion company. That meant radically simplifying Apple’s product pipeline. How? Jobs erased the whiteboard and drew a very simple two- by- two grid in its place. Across the top he wrote ‘Consumer’ and ‘Professional’, and down the side, ‘Portable’ and ‘Desktop’. Welcome to Apple’s new product strategy, he said. Apple would sell only four machines. Two would be notebooks, the other two desktops. Two machines aimed at pros, two machines aimed at consumers.

And the corollary to this high minded minimalism:

Over the next eighteen months, more than 4,200 full- time staff were laid off. By 1998, Apple had shrunk to only 6,658 employees, half the 13,191 the company had in 1995. 3 But the balance sheet was brought back into control.

From Jony Ive, by Leander Kahney, pg 72:

The production schedules also got shorter and shorter. When Brunner first started at Apple, the product development cycle was eighteen months or more. ‘It was crazy generous,’ Brunner said. ‘You had an amazing amount of time to make something work.’ Within a couple of years, however, the product development cycle shrank to twelve months, then nine, and sometimes even six months if the product was needed in a hurry. ‘All of a sudden, what got compressed was our thinking time,’ Brunner said. ‘It still took just as long to implement something, but the time to explore, to test and to play with, just went away.’

This is an interesting example of what I write about as cognitive triage*. The acceleration of working life, in this case driven by the intensified tempo of product development, leads to a prioritisation of urgent requirements at the expense of non-urgent but nonetheless important aspects of a process. This changes what actors within the organisation do with effects that manifest themselves both aggregatively and collectively: the organisation comes to be populated by collections of individuals who orientate themselves differently to their work and action they may or may not take collectively is inflected through these changes in individuals.

*The term was originally used by the journalist Kevin Roose in a superb book about young financiers. At some point I want to try and contact him to see what he makes of my subsequent use of the idea.

I found this description of work undertaken in the apple design lab, long before the design of the iPhone, extremely interesting. From Jony Ive, by Leander Kahney, pg 54-56:

The idea was to explore a suite of mobile products even further off in the future. Brunner and his team felt confident that the new PowerBook and Newton portable would kick off a whole range of mobile products. They began imagining non- computer products, including digital cameras, personal audio players, small PDAs and bigger pen- based tablets. (These might sound familiar but fulfilment of these dreams wouldn’t come for at least another decade – and under the leadership of an entirely new regime.) They hoped that pen- based digital assistants, digital cameras and laptop computers could be linked together using infrared, radio wave and cellular networks. Brunner wanted the design group to have several mobile products ready in case Apple’s upper management suddenly decided the company needed to start making them.

While an Apple team in California worked on several concepts for portable products, the team at Tangerine designed four speculative products: a tablet, a tablet keyboard and a pair of ‘transportable’ desktop computers. Brunner wanted the products to be convertible; the tablet should convert into a laptop and vice versa. ‘For some reason, ironically, we thought convertibility would be really important,’ explained Brunner. ‘So you could go from a traditional keyboard and mouse mode to a pen- based mode, which is a little bit of a rage today with some subnotebooks.’ 39 Brunner noted that these ideas, which seemed a bit strange and radical in the early 1990s, weren’t a million miles from the latest tablets and hybrid laptop/tablets for sale today.

Jony, together with help from Grinyer and Darbyshire, worked on a tablet called the Macintosh Folio. It was a chunky, notebook- sized tablet with a pen- based screen and a huge built- in stand. Made of Apple’s then- usual dark grey plastic, it could almost be a predecessor to the iPad, despite being about five times thicker. Jony worked alone on a special smart keyboard for the tablet called the Folio keyboard. But unlike today’s detachable keyboards for modern tablets, the Folio keyboard was conceived as an ‘intelligent keyboard’ because it featured its own CPU, network jacks and a trackpad. In effect it was half a laptop, namely, the keyboard half. Grinyer and Darbyshire worked on a pair of ‘transportable’ desktops that were half desktop, half laptop. These were transformer- like computers, convertible machines with built- in keyboards and screens that could transform from a desktop into a portable and back again.

My initial impressions of Bernard Stiegler were far from positive, largely ensuing from the sheer incomprehensibility of his writing. However this essay by Mark Featherstone (HT Emma Head) has reminded me why I bought Stiegler’s books in the first place after a few people explained the themes he addresses in his work. Featherstone is concerned with Stiegler’s work as a resource to help illuminate a way out of our being “lost in a hyper-functional technological world” in which “the masturbatory logic that supports, for example, the Apple universe” leads me to “become my own other”. His point here concerns the deliberate eroticisation of these products, coupled with the designed inevitability of their obsolesce. The iPhone, so sleek and seductive, encourages us to invest ourselves in it while the commercial system upon which we depend to attain it strenuously works to preclude the sustainability of that investment:

The effect of this reliance is that we escape our lack through the object. Of course, the additional problem of the technological object today is that, unlike the transitional object — such as the ageing teddy or the old blanket, which grow with us — the evolution of the modern technological object is organised around planned obsolescence. Where we are meant to outgrow the transitional object, the technological gadget outgrows us. It moves on — the iPhone 3 becomes the 3G, the 4, 4S, 5, 5S, 5C. As Steve Jobs famously said before the unveiling of Apple’s latest gadget, “one more thing.” Following the logic of Marxist commodity fetishism, there is always “one more thing . . .” that indicates to us that we always lack.

His argument makes me think back to an exhibition I saw at the Tate Modern earlier in the summer. It involved a dark room, into which people entered and were assailed by fleeting apparitions projected onto the walls. But the contents of the exhibition itself were largely irrelevant. What struck me was how utterly the efficacy of it depended upon the jarring impact of entering a pitch black space and how manifestly this failed because the majority of those entering the room immediately reached for a smart phone to pierce the darkness, in many cases subsequently clutching it protectively even after they had ceased to depend upon the reassurance of its light to acclimatise themselves to the installation. My initial reaction to this was irritation, followed by curiosity and then paroxysms of reflexive doubt when I realised that the immediate expression of my internal realisation (“isn’t it weird and interesting that people do this with their iPhones?”) was to reach for my own iPhone and open Twitter.

To a cynic this might sound like an awfully long winded way of saying that our consumer objects bring us comfort. I think there’s more to it though. Featherstone’s point in contrasting ‘my smartphone’ to a transitional object is that we come to outgrow the latter. It serves to facilitate a transition from the unmediated dependency of early natality through to our individuation within a network of relations in which we gradually come to negotiate this need without ever entirely overcoming it: it’s the consistency of this dependency throughout the life course, depending on others throughout even if dependency on a particular other is fleeting, which is repudiated within the culture of late capitalism. Others recognise us in a way that disowns our dependency, with ‘co-dependency’ widely seen as pathological, in turn encouraging us to disown it in others. Where dependency is acknowledged it is sequestered in specialised institutions, constituting a way in which modernity itself mitigates against our learning to live with dependency. If it is acknowledged, it is framed as something which is overcome through childhood and which cannot be overcome in old age. This confusion becomes particularly pronounced if we consider that one way of reading the findings of the emerging adulthood literature is that the extent of dependency in late adolescence is expanding rather than shrinking, at least in the industrial west.

Against this background the iPhone becomes a strangely overloaded object. As the people in the Tate modern installation showed, it is literally a torch we can use to pierce the darkness. It allows us to absent ourselves from social situations, escaping from others and their recalcitrant disinclination to cater to the dispositions we are often only dimly aware we posses. It leaves the knowledge system at our fingers, in the process allowing us to evade the limitations of our capacity to remember and our willingness to even try. It is our entire network, all those we know and all those we might wish to know, compressed into the palm of our hands. The latent capacity of the object is bewildering and overwhelming: in allowing us to say whatever we want to whomever we want to, it obscures the question of why we would want to do these things. Stripped of the horizons imposed by scarcity, we struggle to orientate ourselves to the endless possibilities it affords. The iPhone comes to represent everything we could do and could be but are not. It helps us repudiate our dependency (“I don’t need them, there’s no end to the things I could do”) without making us independent – in fact it undermines this because the simultaneous expansion of possibility and contraction of grounds upon which to choose can easily engender compulsivity (i.e. never exhausting the novelty in my hand and having no grounds upon which to choose between novelties leads to mindless repetition and inertia). This is how I understand the lack that Featherstone discusses and I’d be interested to know if my understanding is substantively different to what I assume to be the Lacanian notion he invokes or if I’m just rearticulating it in a different theoretical jargon. It’s the relationship between our being and becoming: the possibility of becoming some other being that precludes the self-subsistence of our present being. We can never just be because we are always in the process of becoming and we always have some evaluative orientation to the possible selves we (fallibly) see ahead of us. It matters to us what kind of person we might become. The ‘masturbatory logic’ suggested by Featherstone is, on my reading, the tendency of these devices and the ‘ecosystems’ within which they exist to leave us mired in what I see as an existential gap between what we are and what we could become rather than a ‘lack’ that characterises our being.

In this sense, we can see the iPhone as an object both reassuring and destabilising. It induces a sense of autonomy but at a cost of undercutting our capacity to sustain meaningful commitments in a life structured around its omnipresence. It helps us symbolically overcome our dependence but detracts from our capacity to meaningfully enter into new relations with all the capacity for dependency they herald: why commit to these people when I can so easily meet those people? What I’m trying to get at is the relationship between a technological artefact like the iPhone and our capacity to live with what Ian Craib calls ‘disappointment’:

Why disappointment? In common usage, and in the dictionary, we talk about disappointment as what happens, what we feel, when something we expect, intend, or hope for or desire does not materialise. One of the difficulties of living in our world is that it is perhaps increasingly less clear exactly what we might expect or hope for or desire. In fact, these words mean different things. The most basic is desire: it carries connotations of needing urgently, yearning, to the point almost of trying to will something into existence. Sometimes we desire something so completely that we revert to our infant selves and scream, metaphorically or in reality, in the hope that our desire may be realised – just as, if we were lucky, the milk used to appear in response to our screams from the cot.

Ian Craib, The Importance of Disappointment, Pg 3

In fact I’d go as far as to venture that the iPhone is the most potent artefact ever constructed for escaping disappointment. Our desire to get out of the mess of life finds expression in this shiny implement for which we pay so much and from which we expect so much. It serves this practical function (distraction, connection, escape) but it also comes to represent our capacity to float free of others, wriggling free of the bonds of dependency in which we are all irrevocably entwined. However it is a fleeting object, soon to be obsolete, offering a chimerical sense of autonomy generative more of compulsion than purposiveness. This is precisely what Featherstone’s essay has persuaded me that Stiegler actually does have a lot of insight into, in spite of the latter’s atrocious writing style. I was also interested to find that Stiegler’s prescriptions parallel my own:

Stiegler tells us that we must fight for the right to the future. Like Prometheus, the original rebel with a cause, we must struggle to save the possibility of hope. We must struggle to save our openness to change, which is, of course, based in our humanity, which is, in turn, rooted in our fundamental lack — our default.

Stiegler argues that we must find time and space in life for otium, or studious leisure, which is today absolutely subordinate to negotium, or calculation and necessity. [70] Fundamentally, he explains that this is not about supporting the importance of the pleasure principle, but rather a defence of art, craft, and the value of cultural discipline, because this is how we insert ourselves into a world and co-individuate ourselves through communication with others. In this sense, he is critical of Foucault, who he argues advances a one-dimensional view of the idea of discipline, a view that ignores the importance of discipline in suturing people into social symbolic systems that allows them to become human and elevate themselves beyond mere bestial necessity. This is why he thinks we need valuable objects that can enable us to create historical fictions — realisable fictions based in the past that can act as guides to the present and help us to think about moving forward into the future. These good fictions, or fictions of the good, are essentially utopias, narratives necessary to escape the horror of our contemporary un-world and which we can only create on the basis of the care, attention, and discipline we learn through immersion in culture. This is why Stiegler writes in Taking Care of Youth and Generations about the culture industries and what he calls the “battle for intelligence,” because it is here, in the psychopolitical struggle for available brain time, that the possibility of care, attention, and discipline is destroyed in the emergence of hyper-attention and drive-based culture characterised by a complete lack of focus. [71] Stiegler is scathing of consumer culture because there is no know-how or craft in the channel or web surfer who says I want this, that, and the other, and I want it now.

The capacity of this technology to consume is paralleled by a capacity to create. In fact the mobility of the technology allows us to build a life around creation, turning the interstices of late modernity into sites for a renewed craft – if only we can cultivate an attentiveness that is sufficiently durable to avoid being diluted by compulsivity.

Since installing it on my first generation iPad mini a month ago:

  1. My iPad now crashes on a daily basis. I can make this happen slightly less frequently by judiciously closing background applications but, even so, it now tends to crash at least once each day (I use my iPad a lot) whereas previously it not crashed once in a year of heavy daily use.
  2. The disk space is mysteriously and disturbingly vanishing. Either things aren’t deleting properly or new things are being installed without my knowledge. I’m constantly running out of space and, despite repeated rounds of deletion, I seem to be running out of disk space ever more quickly. It’s difficult to be certain but there’s at least 5-7 gig which has gone missing in the last month.
  3. It stalls at least once when watching a video, sometimes though not always followed by a few seconds of skipping ahead.
  4. When I delete videos if it’s set to ‘only show downloaded videos’ (which I use a lot because of the constant deletion the vanishing disk space requires) the video app crashes after you delete something.
  5. The keyboard is sluggish and sticky. Whereas I’d learnt to type very fast, it’s now not possible and I’ve given up on writing on my iPad.

My contempt for Apple and their design philosophy has been slowly building for many months. It’s reached the stage where, as soon as I can afford it, I want to move to Android. The only thing that’s stopping me is Omnifocus. I’ve become so utterly dependent on this app (synched between desktop, laptop, ipad and iphone) to function as a human being that I find the prospect of having to switch to different software mildly terrifying. Using it heavily for years has meant that my every short, medium and long term intention is systematically recorded in there in a way that I’m wary of trying to recreate within different software. But god damn I am starting to hate Apple and the perpetual “fuck you” which seems to emanate from them towards any critical attitude towards their products, as well as the creepy apple fan boys who have internalised this attitude and direct it to anyone else who is critical in this way – go look at discussions of ios7 on apple support forums if you think I’m exaggerating.