A religious view of tablets (the computing kind)

destroy all onions bannerOther than space, we don’t get a lot of technology on Slugger. Time to redress that balance.

A local blogger who found himself at the top of a viewing tower in Tokyo when the earthquake hit turned his attention to tablet computers in a recent post on Destroy All Onions.

Umberto Eco famously wrote that fountain pens were protestant, and ballpoints were catholic, because of the universality of ballpoints versus the maintenance and finickiness of fountain pens. That got extended to PCs versus Macs. And now I guess it applies as well to IOS vs Android.

The Apple iPad could be thought of as Catholic. Catholicism brought us the beauty of cathedrals, and I suppose thereby invented aesthetic design. The iPad is the triumph of design, with its minimalist approach. However, it also has a pope, who rules over his flock. Steve decides what you can and can’t do with your iPad, and what he says goes. His triumph is that in his role as priest, he has mediated between the complexity of the technology and ordinary people, and has created a universal device – everyone is welcome, and it works for all without a lot of tedious theology. And that of course is what attracts me to it – it just works, and it works beautifully.

But then the reformation comes, and the people stand up and say no to what they see as an authoritarian regime that has gone astray. At first, they’re not sure what to believe, what to take from the old church, and what to reinvent. But they do know that they believe in making their own decisions, and that they don’t need Steve to tell them what they can and can’t do. Of course, being essentially Protestant, it is a completely fragmented approach. There are lots and lots of different ways to do everything. So there’s no standard way of doing it – to get the best from it, you go and find your favourite email client, video player, keyboard. And so it’s hard work, an uphill struggle to get it the way you want it.

For the theologically interested, I believe he purchased some kind of protestant ASUS Android tablet.

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  • Zig70

    Are microsoft the atheists? I thought I’d prefer android but cheap hardware and a myriad of useless apps leaves me reaching for a pc. Apple costs too much but it works. Catholicism, once broke, you can’t fix it yourself?

  • Lawns are catholic and borders protestant (concrete drives atheist),

    Forks are catholic and knives protestant (spoons atheist),

    April is Catholic and November protestant (May atheist)

  • Comrade Stalin

    There are probably more parallels between computing and theology than people may know.

    Going back in the 1980s, especially the first half of the 1980s, there were anywhere up to 20 different types of computer on the market (off the top of my head .. Acorn/BBC Micro; Oric-1, ZX Spectrum/ZX81, Jupiter Ace Commodore C16/64, Newbrain, IBM compatibles; Commodore PET; various Atari variants; TRS/80; Apple ][, TI-99/4A ..) . They all had their own programming language (well, a BASIC dialect .. the Jupiter Ace had FORTH), they were all completely incompatible, and those of us who were lucky enough to have parents who owned one growing up would continuously have heated arguments about which was best. There was no “one true” platform. You made your choice and since it was still prohibitively expensive to have two computers, one had to defend it to the death.

    That all gave way to the 16-bit period and an initial short-lived period of 32-bit diversity until, some time in the late 1990s, Windows 95 meant IBM compatible machines finally caught up with the world and consolidated computing on a platform of cheap, mass-produced components that were accessible to everyone. Even Apple had its “Vatican II” moment and declared forth that, yes, even true believers were allowed to run their applications on a UNIX-derived OS on an Intel x86 architecture provided the Mac tao was scrupulously observed by the user.

    Nowadays most of us follow the One True Platform which is pretty much Windows on x86. I really do not think there is much to separate Windows 7 from an OSX-based Apple apart from bells and whistles. Apple’s selling point is not technological innovation or a killer app, as it was in the past (before Quark XPress, Pagemaker, Photoshop, Digital Performer, and so on were all ported to Windows) – it’s the shiny bells and whistles and little touches that make people think “oh, that’s clever”. Any time they get a good idea, they patent it rather than opening it out to the masses who follow it and the Dear Leader with slavish devotion. It’s less of a Catholic-type faith, more of a Scientogly-like makey-uppy thing that will eventually fade out when someone else starts making laptops with even shiner knobs.

  • I follow the Church of Emacs, as revealed by Saint IGNUcius.

  • Nunoftheabove

    That Blackberry Preceptory’s in bad nick these days, dear me. Orange appears to be holding its own and Apples are, well, green. Apart from the red ones. And whatever happened to that David Kimble could you tell me ? And do not get me started on Powerpoint sharing at this time of the morning..

    I’ll get me coat.

  • @ Comrade Stalin “I really do not think there is much to separate Windows 7 from an OSX-based Apple apart from bells and whistles.”

    Oh I beg to differ. (Incredibly) nothing has yet surpassed the fortitude of UNIX (which OSX is based). That Jobs’ decision alone saved Apple from near certain death in the mid 1990s.

    Windows 7 (and glimpses of Windows 8) are indeed remarkable improvements, but still an Microsoft catchup game.

    Re Protestant/Catholic paradigm, aren’t OSX and Windows 7 actually both Catholic, but it’s Linux that’s truly Protestant, free from priests ordained by Apple or Microsoft?

  • Comrade Stalin

    UNIX was a design which was pretty much right the first time. That’s why it has prevailed, like the bicycle, or the WC. They’re old ideas, but nobody has thought of replacing them because they just work. And those who have attempted to reinvent them have usually done it badly.

    But fundamentally there is really very little to differentiate Linux, BSD, and indeed Windows looking solely at the kernel. The Windows NT kernel (at the basis of Windows 7) has changed relatively little over the past ten years, and it has its own UNIX similarities owing to the fact that Microsoft hired David Cutler to do it, and he based it all on his experiences designing VMS (itself influenced by UNIX which was, back in the day, an expensive, closed ecosystem). They’re different enough to be incompatible, but similar at the same time because it’s very rare that there are two completely different but equally credible ways to do the same thing – especially since computers are so powerful now that the overhead caused by bad programming or design decisions is more or less invisible.

    Had Apple not revealed or been able to keep secret OSX’s status as a derived work of BSD UNIX, and kept it hidden beneath their usual API, it wouldn’t have been apparent to many people that it was there. Apple’s secret sauce is in their well designed and carefully tuned user interface, and sleek hardware to boot. In terms of functionality, Macs don’t fundamentally do anything more than anyone else does – it’s all in the execution. Mac OS would work just the same no matter what OS kernel it happened to be built on. But yes, it was a necessary decision .. it’s just not practical for anyone outside Microsoft to maintain a purely proprietary and closed kernel any more.

  • Right I don’t get this at all… the post seems to be confusing catholicity with Romanism as though the Eastern Orthodox and Anglican traditions doesn’t exist. It also seems to be saying that the RC church is one big majestic church, rather than one plagued with internal division and external criticism that is haemorrhaging members left right and centre. Plus it was the Byzantine tradition that we owe most of the aesthetic designs to rather than Roman Catholicism…

    Pentecostal movement is more like the Apple, growing and adapting with each year, always looking forward and gaining speed faster and faster.

    Rome is like Nokia… once great and everywhere but now a forgotten relic of a long past time, losing out fast though still big in it’s homeland.

  • ayeYerMa

    Don’t agree. A bit like religion per-se, tablets are nothing a big waste of time altogether (bar a very very few niche applications) and are mainly the latest toy for those with too much money.

    Regarding phones, a cross-device platform such as Android is the only way to go.

    Regarding PCs, Mac OS has an overrated, illogical and bodged-together UI, much of which belongs way back there in the 80s. Those wetting themselves over it have been deceived by the shiny hardware, just like crows looking for shiny objects; or people with something so badly missing in their lives that they feel the need to follow the latest fads.