The iPad as iText

Matt Greenop argues that it is “only Apple’s reality distortion field that could turn [the iPad] into a real success story.”

The iPad, first fielded today (Gadget Republic).

From wikipedia (edited):

Reality distortion field (RDF) is a term coined by Bud Tribble of Apple in 1981 [see Andy Hertzfeld, Revolution in The Valley (Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly, 2005)], to describe company co-founder Steve Jobs’ charisma and its effects on the developers working on the Mac project. Later the term has also been used to refer to perceptions of his keynote (or Stevenote) by observers and devoted users of Apple stuff. Bud Tribble claimed that the term came from Star Trek. In essence, RDF is the idea that Steve Jobs is able to convince himself and others to believe almost anything with a mix of charm, charisma, bluster, exaggeration, marketing and persistence. RDF is said to distort an audience’s sense of proportion or scale. Small advances are applauded as breakthroughs. Interesting developments become turning points, or huge leaps forward. Impossible-seeming schedules, requirements or specifications are acceded to. Snap judgments about technical merits of approaches are sometimes reversed without acknowledgment. Those who use the term RDF contend that it is not an example of outright deception but more a case of warping the powers of judgment.

See Nitrozac and Snaggy, “The Reality Distortion Field is Breached,” The Joy of Tech (2007).

This kind of boosterism that “adds value,” in the ideological—not to mention,  financial—sense, to a product is not far from Roland Barthes’ “effect of reality” or “reality effect.” A reality effect is a textual device that establishes a literary text as realistic through ecphrasis (“description,” from ekphrazein “to recount, describe”): the description of or commentary on a visual work of art, or, more generally, of a real or imaginary thing, place, time, person or experience, subject to aesthetic and referential constraints (“The Reality Effect,” in The Rustle of Language, trans. R. Howard [Berkeley, CA: UCB Press, 1989]). From Homer on Achilles’ shield to Heidegger on Van Gogh’s peasant shoes, this trope has proliferated.

The “referential illusion” thus created is plainly a problem for discourses that trade in “reality,” e.g., science or historiography, i.e., in what proportion are their objects and outcomes of enquiry real and illusory? To rephrase the very real problem of relativism (which is *in essence* the absence of a fact-value distinction): if value-added texts (VATs) of all types are the stuff of poeisis, it’s questionable whether there could be a value-free text. Every text is an iText (ideology-text), the iPad just its latest avatar.

Tom Phillips, Self Portrait (ekphrasis)
Oil on canvas, 80 x 50 cm, 1989.
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