Are you Controlling iTunes or is it Controlling You? Power, Authority and Apple


Lately I’ve been considering the connection between power, authority and control. What does it mean to have power, in our everyday lives? How can power translate into authority, and what exactly is authority anyway? Most importantly of all, is control a necessity of either power or authority?

I have recently finished reading the Steve Jobs’ biography, by Walter Isaacson. One of the many intriguing themes of this book is the debate between ‘open’ and ‘closed’ systems – or products created to adapt and gel with any other media or device verses products created to only work within their own environments. The significant advantage of the latter is, as has Jobs’ proved, the ability to synthesise an end-to-end experience for the user, from content to software to hardware, so that the user is able to easily, seamlessly, use and streamline their entire experience. The disadvantage is that the user is strictly prohibited from doing anything that the creator of the system has not deemed acceptable.

I currently own an HTC phone and an Asus tablet. So you know where I fall in this debate. I did own an iPhone 3G for about 2 years. It was my first smartphone and I loved it. Post-iPhone, now that I have seen what is beyond iTunes, I will never buy another Apple product.

Cory Doctorow wrote of the Apple phenomenon: ‘Buying an iPad for your kids isn’t a means of jump-starting the realization that the world is yours to take apart and reassemble; it’s a way of telling your offspring that even changing the batteries is something you have to leave to the professionals.’ Apple is not about empowerment. Apple is about a sleek, easy to use experience, that produces in you the ultimate consumer (the entire point of an iPad or iPhone is not to understand the device at all, but to purchase – from either the App Store or iTunes). In order to control your experience of news, music, movies, television, games, books, etc Apple has to remove your power. If they were to allow you too much power then you would be able to find content that you didn’t have to pay them for, that didn’t meet their design tastes and that they hadn’t politically approved of. [Apple’s control of the politics on iTunes was made infamous when they banned cartoonist Mike Fiore, who soon after won a Pulitzer prize for his work].

The deeper question here is whether a person or corporation actually needs to take a controlled, ‘closed’ approach to achieve the kind of power that Apple now has. Microsoft proved in the 1990s that an open method of allowing software to be useable and accessible for any other product, content or device, could be so powerful in the area of PCs that it dominated that market (and still does, though Apple is making a comeback – with Microsoft software incorporated onto it’s PC devices). Google is now trying to make the same method work in mobile phones and tablets – and the war continues.

Robert Dessaix, a playwright, essayist, critic, novelist, academic and respected Australian-of-letters, considers the difference between ‘open’ and ‘closed’ systems from the perspective of the relationship between a reader and writer. Dessaix claims that the ‘closed’ end of the scale ‘totally empower[s] the writer, granting him or her total authority virtually nullifying the audience’. Dessaix terms this the ‘excluding’ voice, where a writer appears to not only be presenting an absolute truth, but implying that the reader does not and cannot grasp that truth, even after the writer has explained it. You recognise this writing when you hear passive verbs (‘It can be seen…’, ‘As has been made evident…’) and you notice that there is a distinct lack of ANYBODY ever attached to the sentence – a determination to maintain the semblance of objectivity.

On the other end of the spectrum, Dessaix terms an ‘open’ system of writing to be the ‘inclusive’ voice. This voice shares power. It is often vulnerable, personal, conversational and emotional. It offers rhetoric questions, a strong subject and usually an admittance of penetrability (techniques which discerning readers will be able to pinpoint in both Dessaix’s essay and this post).

Significantly for writers, teachers, parents, politicians, Google and Apple, among others, Dessaix’s main point is that if we address our audience as if we know everything and they nothing, they will eventually realise that we do NOT know everything and begin to mistrust our claims to anything. The perversity of authority is that ‘any strenuous attempt to prove you have [it] is likely to lose you whatever semblance of it you once had.’ As Dessaix reminds us, authority is granted by others, so alone on a desert island you may have power but you would only have authority if there were at least one other person to let you lead them. Dessaix suggests that authority is ‘a balancing act: the more authority you grant your audience (to make a sound judgement), the more authority your audience will grant you (to suggest what those judgements might be).’

As the war between over mobiles and tablets continues it will remain to be seen whether open or closed proves the more profitable method in the long run. Bill Gates, the champion of open systems for PCs, claims that ‘as we look into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.’

With that in mind explore your world today by embracing personal control, power and your right to grant authority to others. Empower your choices, from what you watch on TV to where you by your coffee, with the awareness of how each is an act of power-brokering between yourself and something bigger.


Dessaix, Robert. ‘Showing Your Colours’. On Reading and Writing. Pan Macmillan/Picador. Sydney. 1998.

Doctorow, Cory. Why I Won’t Buy an Ipad. Apr 2nd 2010.

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. Simon and Schuster. New York. 2011.

Singel, Ryan. ‘Apple Bans Satire’. Wired. April 15, 2010.

About karen2202

I am writing my PhD on children's yoga and it's place within mainstream education. I am also a yoga teacher in Sydney, Australia.

Posted on April 20, 2012, in Meditation, Philosophy, Reading, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Are you Controlling iTunes or is it Controlling You? Power, Authority and Apple.

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