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Freedom to Change Your Mind

I posted a few days ago about freedom of and from choice, but I think there’s something orthogonal to that spectrum: The freedom to change your mind, both figuratively and literally.

Fractal of choice

To sum up what I wrote earlier, there’s a spectrum of what choices you make and what choices you leave up to someone else:

There are many choices to make, and it’s even your choice to decide at which fractal level of complexity you’re most comfortable. So far, so good.

Changing your mind

But, what about after you’ve made your choices about choices—can you change your mind later?

  • Can you take your tools with you to a new ecosystem?
  • If you can’t take them with, can you find alternatives?
  • Are your thoughts and work expressed in ways that leave you free to change tools?
  • Can you take possession of the thoughts you’ve poured into a tool or service?
  • What happens when your relied-upon experts go out of business?
  • Or, better yet, what happens when they cash out to Google or Facebook or Yahoo?
  • Do you own the device in your hand? Or, have you just gotten a limited license to use it?

And, this is probably overly clever, but when I write “change your mind” I mean both:

  1. reconsidering your decisions and
  2. altering your cognitive system.

Because, as I’ve written before, these things are cognitive prosthetics—they’re a part of your thinking apparatus. Again, it goes back to how much time you’re willing to devote to sharpening your saw with intentional use of technology.

Personally, I resist the notion of allowing parts of my extended mind to be controlled more by third-party experts than me. Even if I choose for now to leave myself in their hands, I want clearly marked exits and an escape plan.

Intersection of axes

So, if freedom {of,from} choice and freedom to change my mind are orthogonal, what does that look like? (Maybe I’ll come back to this post with a drawing.)

I would think that a high degree of freedom of choice would leave you quite free to change your mind later. But, I could imagine reworking that Big Mess ‘o Wires would be a huge pain. So, I probably wouldn’t use a BMOW as my daily workstation.

On the other hand, some of the best designed systems are trending toward hoods welded shut. Shouldn’t it be possible to start from a product of expert design (an iPhone, for instance), only later to pop the cover off (literally or virtually) and do your own thing? There are jailbreaks—but why are you in a jail? And, doesn’t it seem like they’d make it airtight if they could?

Is it just that app pirates are ruining it for the rest of us? I mean, it’s mighty convenient to have your customers locked in the trunk: It’s harder for them to hurt themselves or the upholstery, and they can’t easily wander off if you make some turns they don’t like. But, that’s tinfoil-hat territory, and I could rant all day.

Android seems to be doing well, and it’s mostly open. I’ve switched device vendors a few times, and all my apps have survived the changes. I’ve flashed my own choice of firmware on a few of my phones, and have been pleased. I have a sense of deeper choices available, should I ever want to chase after them.

Palm’s webOS devices were crazy open—not open source per se, but you could unlock root with the Konami code and apply patches to core applications. Alas, webOS crashed and burned at HP. My hunch is that being open isn’t what did them in, though.

Mozilla (disclaimer: my employer) is headed into that webOS territory with FirefoxOS. In that currently-coalescing ecosystem, the apps come from the open web, aren’t gate-kept by a single marketplace, and can even run on non-FirefoxOS devices. I suspect it won’t be as slick an ecosystem as Apple’s, because the loosely-coupled gates will let in more dirt. But, it will be high on the freedom-to-change axis, and the quality of freedom-from-choice options will limited only by the talent of the designers involved.

Conclusion

So, I didn’t really mean to write an advertisement for FirefoxOS—I work for Mozilla because I love the mission, I’m not trying to shill. Really, I just think it’s very important to have a sense of your choices and freedoms when you accept technology into your life. And, of course, I have some very strong opinions, but this post and the one before it are intended as more about choice in general than my own choices or angst. If you’re happy with your choices, even upon close examination, then that’s great—just keep your wits about you.

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