Steve Jobs can, as one commenter said of his 2007 iPhone debut presentation, sell ice to an Eskimo. Whats more interesting than what he can sell, though, is what he chooses not to. After his well-publicized decision not to sanction adult-themed applications on the new iPad, reactions from technology experts were mixed, though few seemed shrill. Once, when asked about the possibility of smut on Apples mobile devices, Jobs replied , You know, theres a porn store for Android . . . .You can download nothing but porn. You can download porn, your kids can download porn. Thats a place we dont want to go, so were not going to go there. It effected a guilt-by-association that doesquite effectivelymake the Google smartphone sound rather dirty and corrupted.
In the same breath, interestingly enough, Jobs let out his belief in a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone. But does this lead us to believe Jobs has been skimming Mary Eberstadts most recent essay in First Things , and restitching Apples moral fabric? Maybe, maybe not. Phil Schiller, Apples vice president of marketing, has said that Apple continues to allow applications authored by the R-rated Playboy and coffee table-unfriendly Sports Illustrated , as they originate from more reputable companies . I suppose thats possibly true as a matter of degree, but its hard to deny that all these companies capitalize on the same untoward impulse. Given this apparently non-purist stance on smut, perhaps Apple wishes not so much to purge its products of adult-themed material, but to distance themselves from the internet-dominating sexual profiteers of San Fernando Valley, for business and ethical reasons.
Stepping back, its instructive to take a look at how much restraint Jobs used in his decision to keep smut off Apple products. He didnt, mind you, effect a China-style censorship of Apples Safari browser, nor censor anything extrinsic to his company. This kept the libertarian police at bay. And Jobs ability to sanitize the iPad is, after all, inherently limited to the variables he controlsiPad applications and other programs, such as his products use of Flash software.
The most significant fact about Jobs announcement will be, I suspect, his introduction of moral language into the sterile domain of profit-oriented, competition-driven technology. Jobs refusal to surrender to the internets dominating forcepornographymakes his claim of freedom from porn quite plausible. Any such exceptionless moral claim requires grit, and can drive away business. Cynicism is easy, and, rather than interpreting this as a mere mercenary appeal to the pocketbooks of family-friendly homes, its reasonable to think Steve Jobs has simply taken a hard line on smut.