The Creative Revolution

The iPad has caused quite the commotion online, from debates about Flash on the web to ridiculing the device, from claiming Apple has finally made a bad product to claiming that the iPad announces the Orwellian end to our civilization. And then there’s people heralding the death of creativity.

I’m sorry, but… what?!

In his piece, Tinkerer’s Sunset, Mark Pilgrim wrote the following:

But you don’t become a hacker by programming; you become a hacker by tinkering.

Tim Bray has similar sentiments:

For creative people, this device is nothing.

Clearly, neither of these well-respected programmers have ever looked at the AppStore’s many hundreds (if not thousands) of applications that allow people to be creative. The iPhone/iPod Touch platform has already driven creativity among consumers to grand new levels (including some New Yorker covers). Apparently, to misters Pilgrim and Bray, “creativity” means tinkering with settings.

But even that’s not true; the fact is, these guys remind me of old men sitting on their porch yelling “Get off my lawn!”, except in this case it’s old men sitting behind Apple ][e’s yelling at kids playing with iPhones and iPads, drawing paintings directly with their fingers rather than through inputting complex mathematical algorithms and vector patterns in a command line.

When these men became programmers, they didn’t do so because tinkering was “so much fun”; they did it because there was no other way. When they were young, doing anything with a computer required a strong understanding of mathematics, the ability to think in binary and the perseverance to keep exploring things without any book or person around to guide you.

That time has long gone.

Nowadays, some of the best programmers you’ll find have never tinkered with computers in their life until after they first learned all about Objective-C, Java, Ruby or what-have-you. They learned from the treasure trove of information found in books and on websites that helped them learn Object Oriented Programming and memory management. Entire college courses exist to teach people how to write code; is that not better than forcing these millions of students to learn how to do this by tinkering?

“But I can’t write code on the iPad!” these old men whine. Perhaps not—that might change, though. More curiously, why aren’t they writing apps to write code with? Last I remember, the great pride of hackers was that they would create their own tools whenever tools didn’t exist to do their work.

Or could it be that most people don’t care so much about writing code? Joel Johnson nails it:

Well guess what? Only shade-tree tweakers give a flip about creating their own tools. Most people want to use the quality tools at hand to create something new.

The simple matter is that these guys are old, and they grew up in an age where tinkering was the only possible course of action if you wanted to use the latest and greatest technology to its fullest potential. The Mac, in 1984, shifted that paradigm of creativity and creation towards average consumers a little. The iPhone and iPad are shifting it even further towards consumers, away from the tinkerers of old, the small little “elite” that excludes the vast majority of people.

It’s a shame to see such respected programmers try to position Apple (a professional competitor to them, mind you) in an evil light, but fortunately there are plenty who see what’s really going on. As Dan Moren wrote for Macworld:

For Apple, it’s not about killing off tinkerers, but ensuring that not everybody who wants to use a computer has to be a tinkerer.

Which, it should be noted, is most everyone.

If you liked this, you should follow me on Twitter!