Aral Balkan

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Photo of my desk showing a number of devices: from left to right, my MacBook, and iPad, a Samsung S9+ with a Microsoft foldable keyboard, a 21" LG monitor, a Filco Majestouch keyboard, a pair of AirPods in their case, a Logitech presentation remote in its gray leather sleeve, a Nexus 5 running LineageOS resting on a Logitech bluetooth keyboard originally for the iPad, a Magic Trackpad, and a Dell XPS 13 running Pop!_OS 18.04. All screens are off. Peeking from behind them is my Nabaztag bunny with one blue ear and one pink ear. To the far right, partially in the photo, is a pen holder with Muji pens, a coffee  mug, and my Leuchtturm notebook.

My current setup: work in progress.

For the last 12 years, my main development machine has been a Mac. As of last week, it’s a Dell XPS 13 running Pop!_OS 18.04.

From the day the first iPhone was released, my main phone has been an iPhone. As of this week, it will be a Samsung S9+ running LineageOS. (I had it running LineageOS last week but there was an issue with the camera that meant that I had to reinstall the stock surveillance-ridden Samsung ROM. I plan to rectify that this week.)

Why the change?

There are two reasons I have been using and developing on Apple’s platforms for the last decade. Here they are in the order in which I was aware of them:

  1. Apple’s focus on experience design. This is not a cosmetic consideration. Experiences are literally all we have in life.

  2. Apple has an absolute competitive advantage in privacy over surveillance capitalists like Google, Facebook, etc. This is because they inherited their business model of selling products (not people) from the personal computer era.

So, all in all, Apple does exceedingly well on the top two layers of the ethical design manifesto (respect for human effort and respect for human experience) and is the least of possible evils when it comes to multibillion-dollar multinational corporations that make proprietary mainstream technology in relation to the core layer (respect for human rights).

Ethical design hierarchy: respect for human rights, effort, and experience

Ethical design respects human rights, human effort, and human experience.

That said, I am severely disappointed with how Apple employs one set of ethics when it comes to “the West” and another set when it comes to countries like China1.

Apple has shown that they are willing to be complicit to government surveillance and censorship in authoritarian markets like China. Just because I have the privilege of living in a Western country where - for the time being - it is in Apple’s economic interests to protect my privacy doesn’t give me any trust in them for the future given that we live in a world of Trump and Brexit. I also wonder which of my friends in Turkey (where my family is from) will be sold out by Apple to Erdoğan once the latter starts imposing China-like demands (or maybe the market isn’t large enough so Apple will rediscover its backbone in Turkey). Needless to say, no multibillion-dollar multinational company is your friend.

Why now, not earlier?

Where proprietary systems and the people farming devices of surveillance capitalists fail at the core layer of the hierarchy of ethical design by violating human rights, Free and Open Source alternatives have a rich history of succeeding radically at the core while failing at respecting human effort and experience.

If freedom technologies have any chance at competing with the products of surveillance capitalism, they must embrace design. If we expect people to use our wares because of our superior ideological arguments, we will be waiting a long time. Thankfully, there is a huge momentum of development groups that understand this and aren’t waiting around. Instead, they’re working hard to make convenient, usable, and - dare I say, delightful - tools and experiences that happen to protect your rights and freedoms.

This brings us to the answer to the “why now?” question. Because I felt I could without negatively impacting my day to day experience.

And it’s all thanks to the work that went into Gnome Shell, Ubuntu 18.04, elementary OS and the curation of all three of these by System76 that resulted in the state of the art of GNU/Linux distribution that is Pop!_OS 18.04.

Take note: this is the first operating system I’ve used that is simpler, more elegant, and does certain things better than macOS.2

I never thought I’d ever write those words about GNU/Linux and it gives me a lot of hope for the future.

  1. See Apple’s capitulation to China’s VPN crack-down will return to haunt it at home, Apple’s China-friendly censorship caused an iPhone-crashing bug, Apple is under fire for moving iCloud data to China. ↩︎

  2. I’ll explore some of these in detail in future posts. ↩︎