“Ubiquitous” Access

We take for granted the access we have to not only information, but our own intellectual property. Even prior to the internet, way too many of us acknowledged the presence of physical libraries, but rarely enjoyed their resources, often out of sheer laziness or ingratitude.

You can chart a direct path from the newspaper to the web of each being replaced by the next, not for its inferiority, but out of sheer convenience. Mailed-to-your-door Magazines and TV, while less informative, were chosen instead because the user experience is far easier. This mentality has translated well to the web, where long-format criticism and research is relegated to the snobbish corners of Mother Jones and Slate, maybe seeing the light of day to a broad audience when excerpted by the Huffington Post. Blogs are losing fashion against social, yet while Instagram and Twitter continue to explode in popularity, they do so in response to the “hassle” of Facebook (which knocked off the even clunkier MySpace).

The frictionless distribution method actually makes best sense considering what passes for breaking news. Rarely is there need for any archiving the day to day of who Jennfier Anniston is marrying (again), or even what responsive images solution the nerds are bantering about this week. Even e-newsletters are feeling downright antiquated in some instances, such as the “tip” I received from the Graphic Artists Guild this afternoon regarding Adobe’s security breach (almost four weeks after the fact).

No doubt salivating over the savings of moving away from physical objects content publishers rushed to embrace the web themselves. They’re since learning their mistake, scrambling to keep their products from being “shared” freely. Their collective panic has resulted in perverted and selective copyright restrictions, bizarre penalties for search innovators and “users,” and ineffectual policing of download sites (many of which they unknowingly subsidize through scattershot PPC marketing).

Apple has become a leader in developing digital rights management, but not with any intention of protecting creators’ rights. DRM (for Apple) is instead an invisible form of high-end security guard — one that follows you home and makes sure you dont play it on too many devices, share it, move it or do much of what many of us have taken for granted all along.

The true role of DRM became strikingly clear last night, tying together the thoughts and reading over the past few days. Having installed OSX Mavericks, I was pleased to see they have included the iBooks app on the desktop. Launching it, I was surprised to see my library (as I know it on my phone and tablet) instead completely empty. Even signed in with the same Apple ID, I am unable to sync any of my books — all carefully curated to include only legal and paid-for- titles.

I use a second, older Mac as a print and media station, using it for my music and reading libraries. Because I need to support my older large-format printer, this machine is running OS 10.3, which understandably, cannot support the desktop version of iBooks as Mavericks does. The library and source app for my devices all live on this machine within iTunes, and sync fine to the devices, and yet my main machine running Mavericks ignores these.

Looking past what I hope is a momentary glitch in a new OS release that will be soon corrected in a dot release, there is a larger underlying issue that concerns me, more directly to my original thought. All of these texts are Creative Commons downloads, or from European and small-press publishers. They were purchased from the author directly. If I had purchased them through iTunes, and Apple had received their statutory 30%, I would have access to them.

Are we moving towards a point of no return in which, in order to read anything at all, we will be beholden to Apple’s permission? What does this mean to those who dont have access to iDevices, or if do, can’t afford pay-per-view information? Will authors have no recourse but to resign themselves to iTunes Terms & Conditions in order for their work to be read? When these technologies inevitably shutter physical libraries, will we return to a neo-medieval serfdom of a learned “priesthood” and an ignorant rabble? Are we already there?

Adobe’s Creative Cloud poses similar challenges to me, professionally. While the ability to color correct a photo is far less dire to a healthy democracy than widespread literacy, it is how I make my living. I rely on Adobe’s tools to an excruciating degree. Their new subscription model was met with a lot of resistance, including from me, as it finally puts in ink how co-dependent the entire industry is on one supplier. Eventually, I softened to the idea and, mostly out of necessity having to teach the newest versions, I enrolled. Just before installing Mavericks, I finally took the leap and removed redundnant copies of CS6 from my machine.

Last night, my internet went down, as did my connection to the Cloud. Rather than cuss out AT&T, I did what I normally would do: launch Illustrator and get back to work off-line. Instead Adobe wouldn’t let me open any of my apps. Apps I have paid for — in fact my October ransom went through less than a week ago — stopped working. When selling the Cloud, Adobe promised this wouldn’t happen. In less than six months it did.

Now, I realize that after a major OS install Adobe wants me to confirm my registration. And that my internet outage and OS update coincided is an outlying condition. But its the effect, however temporary, that proves my point exactly.

With the bulk of our lives online, too much of our power is held in the hands of others. Property rights, once transferred when the money in my possession was traded for an item in their possession, have been modified to leave the money AND the item with the seller. Without the internet, I can’t read, and now, I can’t work.

This arrangement is precarious at best. As designers, this should become our all-consuming dillemma. One we have an obligation to design our way out of.