Yes, I caved (or, was tipped slightly further, causing me to plummet into the cavern into which I was desperately staring) and bought an iPad. Wifi-only, because I’m cheap, but bought one nonetheless. And here’s why.
No, I’m serious. It’s slowly becoming a cliche, but the iPad is the first step in realizing the vision of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; the nerd’s fantasy of an always connected, always updated book that tells you just what you need to know, now. It is a device that offers entertainment, wisdom, and places to get wasted. It is the Guide.
Any self-respecting (or moderately self-aware) nerd, geek, dweeb, A/V manager, or sys admin worth their salt has read the Sacred Tomes more than thrice. Annually if you want a really well-punched card. And the vision of that universe is a system of knowledge that crosses galaxies, instantaneously, if not accurately, to deliver the wisdom of people more worldly-wise-than-you to a device you can reasonably purchase. Adams himself saw the Internet to have the potential for this vision.
I did not, however, buy an iPad because I am some visionary sage of future tech. If that was my nature, I would be investing in toe nail collections (they have gold, you know). No, I bought it simply out of gadget lust. Nothing more, nothing less.
But then I saw what it did to people.
(Disclaimer, I’m well aware of the post-facto justification this post will sound like. Work with me through the rest; I’m writing with my biases prominently on display.)
I knew something was different on a Sunday a few weeks ago. My “in-laws” (not married) were over, with a visit from J–‘s sister. I’d laid out the iPad casually, because I’m an attention whore like that. Everyone but J–‘s mother was eager to try it; poked around the apps on it, flipped into the App Store to search for their favorite topic, things I’d seen a dozen people prior to them do at work.
J–‘s mother, however, wanted nothing to with it. It didn’t interest her, it was odd and different. She didn’t need it. It got tossed back onto the coffee table. Then J–‘s mother and I started talking about recipes for smoking meats while sitting on the couch (sidenote: I’d inherited a smoker from them and I LOVE it). I wanted to look up a recipe I’d seen, so I reached for the iPad. I didn’t do it to use the device, I reached for it because I didn’t want to leave the room and break up the conversation.
I fired up Safari and started searching, finding the first candidate. J–‘s mum perked up, but that wasn’t the one. I search again. Closer, but she was sure she’d seen it somewhere else. I searched again but got further away.
J–‘s mom got frustrated. She knew was it was, but couldn’t articulate it. So I handed her the iPad. I pointed out the search bar in Safari, made her tap to open the keyboard, and watched as she searched up the recipe. She emailed it to me, then proceeded to spend 20 minutes surfing various sites, zooming, opening multiple windows. She was a power user in less than half an hour. Her husband had to ask if they were leaving anytime soon to get her to stop.
And I knew. This was something different. I’d bought it out of lust, but fallen into the trap laid two decades ago by Douglas Adams. My Nerdself craved the interactive, ubiquitous ability to conjure up knowledge with my own fingers. Apple’s device isn’t magic, as so many marketing videos claim. But it is a visceral fulfillment of so many subconscious wishes. It can’t fail because we want it to succeed so much.
It is also the harbinger of how things will be. As with other things, it’s the first of many similar things. It may not be the most featured, but it is the more polished. There will certainly be Android touch tablets to follow, maybe even a Palm OS or Windows version. But Apple is defining the experience right now.
In 10 years, we’ll all have devices like this and wonder how we put up with things like mice, possibly even wondering what kind of idiot would have a 40-pound box stashed underneath their desk. Apple may not win the battle for market ($DEITY knows they’ve blown it many times before). But the model for how to interact is being changed and the future is being redefined. It’s an exciting time.