image credit: KeurigHack
image credit: KeurigHack. also, wow, even the machine talks to you like a jerk

A quick update regarding Keurig instituting the coffee maker form of Digital Rights Management in their products: Not so great for Keurig.

“It is a HUGE SHAME that the company decided to remove the ability to use your own coffee grounds in the home brew k-cup. …They should have just said we made these changes so our products would sell more so we could make a bigger profit,” reads a typical review. “They took a potentially killer machine and added horrible DRM – a rights management system, in the greedy attempt to get all other coffee pod manufacturers to pay them so their pods work,” reads another of the hundreds of one-star reviews. Many lamented the ability to give no stars. If you Google “Keurig 2.0,” the first thing that autocompletes is “hack.”

There’s not a tremendous amount that’s surprising about this, and I frankly don’t have much to add that I didn’t say back then, or that anyone else hasn’t already said about this. The Verge article is especially perceptive in terms of pointing out that the fact that this is about coffee is in itself significant; the kind of people who would probably buy a Keurig are people who probably have a particular relationship with this kind of coffee and are looking for a particular kind of coffee experience. Easy, convenient – which also indicates a versatility which DRM of any kind destroys.

DRM constrains use, which is the enemy of the versatile. It takes products and technologies and devices that might be fabulously nimble, highly adaptable, and renders them useful within a very narrow range of functionality. My husband recently jailbroke his iPhone; I knew about a lot of the features that allowed one to institute, and I understood the general culture behind tearing down the walls around Apple’s pristine garden, but it was still remarkable to see what that process turned the iPhone into: something far more useful and far more powerful than Apple was permitting it to be. Far more friendly.

The kind of DRM Keurig was putting in place is a natural extension of the control pretty much all companies who produce technology of any kind try to maintain over how those devices are used. It’s not unusual and there should be nothing surprising about it. I’ve written somewhat depressingly about what I’ve perceived as the inevitability of this kind of control, especially as it becomes both less visible and more normalized, but I’ve somewhat revised that view. Not just because of the kind of loud annoyance that seems to arise every time something like this happens and the messages that kind of loud annoyance sends, but also because of the sheer – almost joyful – creativity involved in the idea of hacking your coffeemaker. No one likes having to do something like that, and the necessity itself is ridiculous, but there’s something about that kind of resistance I find very satisfying.

Again: nothing particularly new about the observation that there are opportunities for both the exertion of control and the act of resistance in situations like this – political and commercial and whatever, everything in between. But yeah, I kind of see some connections to be drawn between resisting an asshole coffemaker company and resisting an oppressive political regime. If you tilt your head and squint. A bit.

And I’m pleased that Keurig paid for being stupid about this. That’s always satisfying too.


Sarah is on Twitter – @dynamicsymmetry