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agon/antagon: appropriation as theater July 10, 2007

Posted by François in agonistic, cannibalism, iPhone.
2 comments

This past weekend, 300 hackers gathered in San Francisco for iPhoneDevCamp. The camp was a first collective attempt to unlock the iPhone’s mysteries, prompted by Apple’s reluctance to publish details about its inner workings. The LA Times covered the event as if it were a military battle. The article describes how the DevCampers carefully prepared for combat, wearing “stickers classifying themselves as developers, hardware testers, designers or web coders.” It quoted organizers who said the event was “about killer participation”, “not just to create the killer app.”

On the surface, iPhoneDevCamp had all the hallmarks of antagonistic cannibalism. Apple resisted the assault by refusing to help or provide any basic information about its product. Hackers strategically deployed themselves to “bend the iPhone to their will” and “make it do things Apple might prefer it didn’t.”

But following Paul Duguid’s insights, we might choose an alternative reading. The displayed hostility may simply be appropriation theater, agonistic rather than antagonistic. Indeed on closer examination, the DevCamp battle looks a lot like a love fest. The hackers clearly relish the challenge laid out for them by their idol, and Apple must love the attention (if only because it presumably made at least $150,000 selling $500 iPhones to 300 hackers.) The result, one suspects, will be more iPhones sold to happier hackers.

Meanwhile, the show certainly is entertaining as we watch Apple playing hard-to-get, enjoying every cannibalistic nibble from its suitors.

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