Idiocy simulator

DIY Segway

Photoshopping your Xerox of a Kleenex

If you’ve been surfing the blogs lately, you’ve no doubt seen the recent furor over Adobe. First it was discovered that the company inserted code into its latest version of Photoshop that checks to see whether an image you’re tweaking is one of the world’s major currencies — and if it is, Photoshop won’t let you open it. Users, quite understandably, flipped out, pointing out that there might be plenty of valid reasons one wants to photoshop a piece of currency. They also noted that the new counterfeit-detection algorithm sucks up a healthy amount of processor speed, slowing Photoshop down significantly. But hey: The government demanded that Adobe insert the code.

Which, once again, gives us a lovely illustration of Larry Lessig’s central thesis: That in the modern world, code is law. Ever wonder why America Online won’t let more than a couple dozen people convene in a single chat room? It’s not because it isn’t technologically possible. It’s because they just don’t want more than a few dozen people using AOL to convene. That could be for plenty of reasons, but one of them easily might be political: Protest and dissent rely on people convening together, and AOL likely doesn’t really want to be a vehicle for that. It has essentially designed “public spaces” out of AOL-land; the code is as specific and powerful as a federal law prohibiting groups from gathering, a popular tactic amongst banana-republic dictators. (I’m not suggesting that AOL’s designers are behaving like dictators, of course; in a private-enterprise setting, the comparison is politically meaningless. Though it’s also funny to note, as Lessig does, that while AOL puts strict limits on how much interaction AOL “citizens” can have with one another, AOL’s “king” — Steve Case — can and does often send out an email to all seven bazillion of AOL’s members, much like Castro blasting a message island-wide via the P.A. system. Comrades, lend me your ears!)

But je digresse.

Let’s get back to Adobe — a company that seems hellbent on exquisitely ruining its reputation amongst its web-savvy fans. On the heels of being outed as the latest enforcement wing of the US Treasury, Adobe decided it was also time to join in on America’s hot new pasttime: Policing your trademark! They’ve apparently decided that too many people are using “photoshop” as a verb (including — whoops — me above, in this very post). So they’ve issued a set of directives clarifying the appropriate use of their name:

Trademarks are not verbs.

CORRECT: The image was enhanced using Adobe® Photoshop® software.
INCORRECT: The image was photoshopped.

Always capitalize and use trademarks in their correct form.

CORRECT: The image was enhanced with Adobe® Photoshop® Elements software.
INCORRECT: The image was photoshopped.
INCORRECT: The image was Photoshopped.
INCORRECT: The image was Adobe® Photoshopped.

Barristers, start your engines.

By the way, notice the lovely bit of corporate bumphery up there: Adobe continually suggests that the correct way to refer to using Photoshop is to say that you “enhanced an image” with Photoshop. But what if what you did with the image isn’t really “enhancement”? What if you made the image suck more? I think I’m going to take a bunch of pictures and render them virtually unreadable; I could then follow Adobe’s guidelines to the letter, by using the following perfectly-legal explanation:

The image was made to massively suck using Adobe® Photoshop® software.

(Thanks to Fark for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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