Posts Tagged MacBook

Digital nausea

serversIn his first novel, Nausea, Jean-Paul Sartre describes how inanimate objects can stifle the growth of an individual’s identity. Of course, anyone with a large amount of possessions knows that these objects can become overwhelming in a physical, as well as an existential, way.

Consumerism is an important part of modern society, but eventually people start running out of places to put things. That explains why so many people flock to minimal devices like iPods and Kindles to store their collections of music and books. However, what they may really be doing is creating nausea in a new medium.

My original iPod still works perfectly, despite being several years old, yet I had to trade it for a newer one because it ran out of space. As soon as I got the new one, I gathered my CDs for an upload session, only to realize that, loaded with music, photos, and other files, my computer itself was running out of space.

Of course, there are devices with more storage space. I could always upgrade further to an iPod Classic, which has 160 GB of space, and a new Macbook Pro with up to 750 GB, just as an example.

If that’s not enough, there’s always the Cloud. Internet companies have massive buildings full of red hot servers that can store a lifetime’s worth of data.

Still, I wonder if that would just prolong the inevitable. Like cars on a new stretch of freeway, stuff has a tendency to fill any vacuum. Empty space just isn’t useful, even if it is a good insurance policy.

In “Billenium,” a dystopian fiction story by J.G. Ballard, two people in an overcrowded future discover a hidden room. In a world where living space is dolled out four square meters at a time, this normal-sized room is a treasure… Until the discoverers  invite more and more people and the open space disappears.

People seem to do the same thing with their purchases, especially when music is just a click away and only $0.99 per song. But what happens when we can’t cram any more entertainment into these tiny containers?

Each individual needs to decide when the line between collector and hoarder, or between functional human being and sufferer of nausea, has been crossed. It’s just important to remember that everything, even in digital form, takes up space.

Our future selves may laugh at bookshelves and CD cases, but that future will be built on a trail of discarded devices and new server nests. We spend a lot of time in the digital universe, but we still exist in the physical one.

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Apple’s taxes: What is the right thing to do?

Ben Franklin famously said that there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. Over 200 years later, it’s still impossible to cheat death, but not taxes. The New York Times recently published an expose on how Apple and other tech companies use perfectly legal loopholes to finagle their way out of paying state and federal taxes. Apple uses subsidiaries in states (Nevada) and countries (Luxembourg) with more favorable tax rates in order to hang on to as much cash as possible.

Apple isn’t the first American company to be accused of cheating on its taxes, but that doesn’t explain why. Apple wants to maximize profits like any other company, but it also has a reputation for good citizenship. Doesn’t being a good citizen include paying taxes?

In a statement, Apple noted that it gives a significant portion of its untaxed profits to charitable organizations. “We have contributed to many charitable causes but have never sought recognition for doing so,” the company said, “Our focus has been on doing the right thing, not on getting credit for it.” Over the past two years, Apple has donated $50 million to Stanford University, another $50 million to an African aid organization, and started a matching donation program for employees.

If Apple is willing to give freely to charity, why does it squirm at the thought of paying taxes, which fund the same good works. Taxes take away from a company’s profits, but so do donations. At least taxes pay for the infrastructure required to keep a company in business and, you know, keep it in compliance with the law.

Some people believe that, by headquartering itself in California, Apple has “done enough.” The company does not need to pay more taxes, because paying some is better than paying none. If we were still talking about charity, that would make sense; you can’t force an organization to donate a certain amount of money to African aid.

However, taxes are a legal, not a moral, issue. For both individuals and companies, being in the United States means paying taxes. The amount is determined by a duly-elected representative government. Apple needs to pay its fair share, because otherwise everyone else will have to pay more than their fair share. Paying the correct amount of taxes is not optional, at least not for most people.

Companies may hate to part with cash, but taxes benefit them in other ways. The government programs funded by taxes make our society work. How can we help people in Africa if we can’t even maintain streets in Worcester, Massachusetts?

It’s a point that often goes unnoticed in our modern society of corporate worship. Yes, Apple gives us amazing technology that makes our lives easier. It also creates jobs and pays some taxes. Still, Apple needs the United States as much as the U.S. needs Apple. Steve Jobs gave his customers personal computers, and his customers made him rich. He took advantage of America’s entrepreneurial spirit, and rich economy, to found a company. Would things have worked out as well if Jobs was born in Russia?

I’m a huge fan of Apple products (this piece was written on an Apple computer), and I’d like to think that there is more than sheer greed behind the company’s actions. Apple said it just wants to do the right thing, regardless of public recognition. Not dodging taxes is definitely the right thing to do. If Apple continues to scrimp, it may getting some unwelcome publicity, and not the kind that includes awards and pats on the back.

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