Since Steve Jobs passed away on Wednesday, the web has been overflowing with heartfelt tributes to the impact his work had on the technology world, and the world at large.
Steve Jobs, the pioneer of the computer as a jail made cool, designed to sever fools from their freedom, has died. As Chicago Mayor Harold Washington said of the corrupt former Mayor Daley, “I’m not glad he’s dead, but I’m glad he’s gone.”
It’s dumbfounding to me that anybody who lives to any degree in the public’s eye could be this emotionally callous about the death of another person. He paints Jobs as a robber of freedoms, first and foremost, while neglecting to acknowledge the many liberties he brought, for example to those of us who can’t, or don’t want to build our own computing infrastructures.
I find it laughably easy to poke holes in the philosophy of “freedom” that Stallman and his acolytes passionately pursue. In this particular case, his metaphor of the computer as a jail brings to mind the beauty of constraints. Freedom from choice can be as liberating and empowering as freedom of choice.
Imagine a Steinway piano: each string is perfectly tuned so as to cast a unique, beautiful tone into the air with the gentle press of a key. I respect and value this instrument as a liberator of artistic expression. Many people find a lifetime’s pursuit of study in this device, extracting no end of joy from the limitless possibilities it offers.
But to Richard Stallman the piano must appear no less than “musical jail.” After all, the sound spectrum is made up of an infinite number of tuneable pitches, and this … instrument … this villainous oppressor of choice, limits its users to a paltry 88 tones.