When 2016 could have been like 1984

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Apple standing up against the pressure of FBI is a critical moment for our future

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Mar 2, 2016

Flash back to New Year’s Eve 1983, when Apple released one of the most monumental and memorable commercials to date. The ad depicted a heroine charging at a Big Brother-like figure, an homage to George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, with a hammer. The heroine ends up throwing the hammer at the figure and the figure erupts, and then words appeared on the screen: “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce the Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like Nineteen Eighty-Four.

We all celebrated.

On February 16, 32 years after the commercial aired, Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote a letter to his customers, raising a lot of concerns and showing how close we were to losing our privacy, just like the characters from Orwell’s fiction. The technology company was receiving external pressure from the US government to build a backdoor to customers’ personal devices. This backdoor would enable government officials—under specific protocol and significant measures—to access data by bypassing security. In another word, the FBI would have been able to access your iPhone if they were “suspicious” of you.

Cook wrote in his letter that such a backdoor does not currently exist, and that they don’t intend to build one, despite the government’s pressure—and pressure from many fearful citizens. The risk is far too great. The slope is far too slippery. One thing will lead to the next and before you know it, the government will have access to all the data we keep in our devices. We keep a lot of data in our devices.

Creating this backdoor is undoubtedly a knee-jerk reaction to the countless terrorist attacks that have taken place on US soil recently, because terrorists use the same technology we do and need to communicate with each other to orchestrate attacks. However, to simply give up our rights to privacy within our personal communication channels would be a victory for the terrorists. They want us to take extreme measures. They want us to turn the lens upon ourselves. The world does not become safer because of heightened monitoring. It becomes more paranoid.

I remember years ago when cameras in public places was a big controversy. Now, it is the norm. But those cameras are stationary. They don’t travel with us. They are not an extension of who we are. We don’t share our intimate moments with those cameras. Our devices, on the other hand, are in a sense our other hand, and to have the government forcibly hold it wherever we go is a scary thought. It’s what Apple vowed not to do when they aired that commercial. It vowed not to turn our world into a dystopian place ruled by a mistrustful administration, and it is holding true to its word.

While the answer is not to build a backdoor, I do believe there is a solution, one that requires thought and careful calculation, and one that does not compromise the security and privacy of law-abiding citizens. We just need to think about it differently.

Tell me what I want

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How Apple is changing our outlook on technology

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the 1976-theme issue of The Other Press. January 13, 2016

The old way of thinking: Nobody owns a computer because nobody needs one. Take a look at the new Apple 1, which came on sale this summer (July 1976). It looks like something a high school student built during the final days before the science fair. That crummy looking machine is worth the equivalent of a month’s salary for many middle-class people.

Few consumers want computers, and even fewer understand them, but that is not how trends should continue. People are generally content with living day to day within a routine. Technology doesn’t abide by those rules. Technology disrupts, but it often takes many years for it to do so. The same way the printing press, the wristwatch, and the steam engine changed the world, I believe that computers can do the same.

Yet when I approach every new technology—like the Apple 1—I still say: “Nah! I don’t need that. I’m happy with what I have.” I’m happy writing this article out on a pen and paper, then transcribing it on a word processor, and transferring that to a printing press. That’s not a big deal to me.

Steve Jobs, the young and hip founder of Apple, said: “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them… Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.” It’s an inspiring quote that perfectly separates innovators from us mere mortals. This quote allows me to be even more optimistic about technology, knowing that in most cases it will win over.

Will there one day be virtual reality, mobile payments, or robot vacuum cleaners available to consumers? Probably. It could happen within the year, or it could take 40 years, but to write off technology is an ignorant reaction to change. We all need to push in the direction of progress. We need to push with Jobs and the Apple 1.

It’s easy to look to the past and think about how stupid those people were for doing things the “old” ways. Yet, what would the future generation say about us? Yes, technology is stealing jobs away from hardworking people, but I don’t believe that is a bad thing. I believe that people, like technology, should evolve. We need to start thinking like innovators and less like routine-orientated consumers. We should not just pick a job and stick with it. If you look at it, pretty much every job could be replaced with a robot one day, but I ask you this: how will you work with the technology?

Computers aren’t stealing jobs away from people. Computers are changing the way people work. Take this example: bank tellers are losing jobs to automated-teller machines. But then again, what are tellers doing to respond to this? They must innovate. We must see what has yet to be written.