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Software with pictures

It's been a week of irony, with Dunedin app-maker Animation Research sharing an Emmy for its America's Cup app just a few hours after I listened to a Government productivity adviser calling mobile apps, "trivial technology".


The mobile app is taking us right into the heart of the contest. It's the next best thing to riding on the boat. Only, if four million Kiwis jumped on Team NZ's catamaran, it would sink.

The America's Cup Event Authority had the ideal bloke to comment on the Emmy. The trash-talking Aussie we saw during the America's Cup is an amped-up version of the real-life Jimmy Spithill. This guy exemplifies the sports character of the future: A fantasy designed to engage an audience. Like that offensive petrolhead who jumps in a Shelby Mustang and acts out every petrolhead's secret fantasy, the trash-talking Jimmy fires our imaginations and adds drama to the action. The race becomes a soap opera with characters we can relate to.

Here's Jimmy, amping up the contest months after we stopped holding our breath: “We wanted to win the race, which we did, thankfully. But we also wanted to make our sport more exciting and accessible to casual viewers and general sports fans through better television and multimedia production..."


That wasn't the way he framed it during the contest. Back then, it was all Aussie brash and bulldust.

Boundaries are collapsing. The word "app" is short for "application", which is what computer programmers call programmes designed to be used by "users" - that is, you and me. An app is a product. Nothing new about that. So how come government bureaucrats who are supposed to understand productivity don't understand apps? How come they think they are "trivial". They are products, made for people to enjoy. No different from cars, clothes, food, booze, or anything else we buy and enjoy. Western society depends on our ability to make and distribute those things. They are what separates us from the misery of feudalism.

Here's my hypothesis:

The architecture of old-fashioned media made it possible to pretend there were distinct boundaries between the technology (say, pencil and paper), and the content (like a poem). Bureaucrats like neat, clearly defined boundaries. Computer software in the 1960s was "technology". It wasn't made out of physical materials like concrete or paper, so it must be a "technological service". The website, and the smartphone app, have demolished this illusion. Now, the bureaucrats have to tear down their nicely constructed model of the world. They don't like doing that, so they try to put barriers in our way.

The boundary between technology and art was always an illusion. No-one could ever have written anything unless they first learned how to use the tools. They had to learn how to read and write.

The America's Cup mobile app was built by artists and technologists working together. That's exactly how cars get designed and built. What's the difference?

The only thing that has changed is that artists have a new tool. Along with the alphabet, and paint, they can now play with software. I don't think that's trivial.


Kevin Cudby is a Wellington-based Freelance Writer and Parametric Modelling Consultant who loves writing about cool new technology. Email him to discuss your requirements: hello {a}

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