The Science and Technology studies by Bruno Latour, John Law and others have used the concept of “blackboxing” to indicate the ability of scientific facts or technological artifacts “to stand on their own”, without need for explanation, justification or training.
For example, there are scientific facts that have become “common knowledge”, that “everyone knows them”, that nobody disputes them. The matter is made of atoms, atoms are made of elementary patricles. Elementary, Watson? Who’d discovered that? Historians of science will tell us. Do we care? Not so much. Is it true? No, it is not. There are elementary particles that are not bound in atoms (think free electrons in the electrical wire). Quantum physics even disputes the notion of particle replacing it with a wavefunction of probability.
Why do we think that the abovementioned facts are true? Because they were “blackboxed” by the scientists and educators for public consumption. Inaccuracy makes things more simple, details confuse. The abovementioned scientific facts are models of reality sufficient for some situations, insufficient for others. And when we’re faced with the best models we don’t ask for the provenance, we don’t question the authorities that utter them.
What is it about machines? When I drive my car I don’t think of all the parts it’s made of. Wait until the car breaks down and is hauled to the mechanic’s shop – then I’ll learn about its parts. The hard way. From the mechanic’s bill. Coils, switches, shafts. Dollars, Euros, Shekels.
AppleWatch is beautifully blackboxed. Nobody but hackers (and Apple technicians) will ever open it, will ever allow the layperson to be interested about its innards. All the consumer needs to know is that the Watch comes from Apple and thus it’s cool by definition. What if somebody is shown the AppleWatch and not told that it comes from Apple – will it be cool? Yes, I think so.
Hey, wait a minute! What can the Watch do without a nearby iPhone? Not much. It cannot be connected to the AppleVerse of applications, iTunes and other cool things that Apple is so good of integrating together. So to be AppleWatch, the watch cannot be totally blackboxed.
Is the Watch+iPhone integrated pair blackboxed?. No, it isn’t, at least not out of the box. If Iphone is too far then the Watch is less AppleWatch. The user has to “mind the gap”. Actually, in some situations the user may forget about the iPhone-Watch interface and enjoy the blackboxed experience, until she leaves her iPhone on the desk and walks away with less-AppleWatch-ed watch.
In the integration phase of Systems Engineering we gradually blackbox components and hope that they will stay blackboxed. We blackbox the suppliers statements that the components work as required, after (or not) perusing the test reports – more thoroughly for the first article and more perfunctorily for the next one, until its design is modified and then we’re surprised that we have to un-blackbox it and start to question the supplier again.
When we deliver the system. we try to blackbox it to the customer. The customer will blackbox it for the user, making, for example, the power supplies or communication networks “transparent”.
But when some problems appear – the power supply doesn’t comply with the spec, the communication bandwidth is insufficient – then, presto, the whole picture is un-blackboxed, the robustness of the artifacts is questioned, their internal structure exposed, and the debugging begins in earnest.
So, we Systems Engineers have to mind the tension between our desire to blackbox things and the Nature’s desire to open the Pandora’s blackboxes!
No it remains to be seen how the black-boxed Apple fan-base will respond to the actual sales of the AppleWatch!