Why iWant an iPad (Naysaying Gurus Notwithstanding)

April 6, 2010

iPadFor days, now, AxisPortals has been bombarded with links to “Why I won’t buy an iPad (and think you shouldn’t, either“) and its ilk.  Hard to say, of course, whether the iPad metaphor will change the world (and I do think of this as largely a metaphorical proposition, because the device proposes filling a technical gap that it must also largely create among those who can’t immediately grasp the yearning for something smaller and lither than a laptop but larger and meatier than an iPhone–something that makes substantial and connected writing, reading, and research possible in currently empty spaces), but whether the tool successfully creates awareness of that rich niche or not, AxisPortals finds both the naysayers’  lack of imagination and their incipient sexism and ageism disheartening.

Yup, sexism and ageism.  It startles me to find myself saying so, but there it is.  Apparently, something about sleek and sealed iProducts brings out the inner Tool Time guy in some male tech gurus.  What?  Nothing to take a screwdriver or a wrench to?  No hood to pop open so that knowing glances and grunts can be directed at the gizmo’s innards?  Well, the thing must be meant for drooling infants and “technophobic, timid, scatterbrained” moms.

Well!  Spoken like someone who hasn’t come within spitting distance of a jacked-in-practically-from-the-womb kid or that kid’s techno-savvy mom in a decade or two.

Look, I love a good crescent wrench as much as anybody.  I did my time as flashlight wielding apprentice to a dad who owned every tool imaginable, knew how and when to use each of them, and could fire up his welding torch when something new needed devising. There’s something that will be forever comforting about running my thumb over the cold braille of “Craftsmen” stamped in metal.  It’s easy to understand and appreciate the sense of vulnerability that descends when there’s no access door to lever open, no wire to pull, no parts to view, name, and scatter.   I get that the more delicate work of rocking an old card gently out of its slot and rocking a new one in is satisfying, as well. At least that involves a tool-yen fulfilling screwdriver or two, plus the chance to hand one’s own kid the screwdriver, thus ensuring that  crucial knowledge such as the difference between a flat blade and a Phillip’s head screwdriver will carry over to another generation.

Sony ReaderMeanwhile, I’m one technophile of a mom who is yearning for an iPad.  While patiently awaiting local availability of the 3G version, I’m already imagining the possibilities.  Much as I love both my Sony Reader and Stanza for the iPhone,  I have a hunch and a hope that the iPad will come closer to realizing the vision of a device that makes lithe and portable interactive reading and writing at length (unlike the telegraphic status updates and text messages that are the iPhone’s area of speedy and easy excellence) a reality, at last.

“It’s just an overgrown iPhone!” sneer the critics, to which I must say, “Yes, exactly and at last!”  In the life of this mom, an iPhone that’s all grown up and ready to venture beyond my pocket and my palm has a definite appeal.  I can envision:
  • The wealth of books I can draw upon while coping with the endless waiting situations that I, like many moms, find myself enduring multiple times most every day.  Since I’m a voracious and relatively speedy reader, the little iPhone that I love has a hard time keeping up with my needs.  A bigger screenful of text that can be flipped a bit less frequently sounds good to me.  My aging eyes will be grateful. Plus, the connectivity of the thing makes me salivate.  If the text touches off a question or a connection, I can chase it right away, and immediately share ideas or reflections with others, or record thoughts for myself.  The Reader can put lots of books in one handy place, but it can’t make research, connection, and commentary quite so immediately available.  When that iPad is finally in my hot little hands, it’s definitely getting a place of honor in the front passenger seat right next to me, where I can reach for it and feed my brain at will when faced with mommy downtime.
  • Homework happiness of the “I don’t know, but let’s find out right now” variety.  How nice not to have to decamp to the computer room every time we want to know the correct spelling of a historical figure’s name, the significance of a certain date or place, or the melody of given song. Sure, we could keep a laptop on the kitchen table, and sometimes we do, but how wonderful to have a wireless device of this size that we can pass back and forth, lean over together, or simply bring along.  Wonder what that bug on the window sill is?  We can pull up pictures and compare right now, and we can have that iPad in our tree house, our tent, or our playroom. Even at my age, I can also imagine the appeal of reading the iPad under the covers.  No flashlight required, but parental awareness advised.
  • Morning news cutting through my sleep as the alarm goes off at 6:30. If something significant or troubling is happening, I can pull up the full news story right then and there.  Snow day fantasies?  The kids can pop onto the bed with me while we check the school closings page together. The vision of connection that’s within easy reach, shareable, and portable is hugely appealing.
  • Literacy resuming its rightful place in the easy daily rhythms of families and individuals.  When I was a kid, our house was chock full of books, papers, and magazines.  Yellow legal pads and writing implements of every stripe were in constant reach.  Reading the Sunday newspapers was practically a day long undertaking.  To me, reading and writing were never activities that required furniture designed expressly for those purposes.  To study, I might flop onto my father’s leather chair, head on the ottoman, legs draped over the back, book or notes held aloft.  To write, I might head out onto our old-fashioned front porch, creating an impromptu desk of the stairs or the ledge.  The iPad is still a new and, for many, prohibitively expensive bit of technology, but it seems to me that it at least holds the potential of moving reading and writing-as the connected and electronic phenomenon they have irreversibly and delightfully become–back into (or newly into, for some) the comfortable fabric of our lives. The iPhone and other smart phones have already edged us toward that reality, but they are simply too small to get us all the way there, whereas even the thinnest laptops are still too workmanlike to achieve it.  I can imagine students touring a museum with iPads or something like them in hand.  I can imagine an iPaddish device on the kitchen counter, making recipes readily available and open to annotation.  I can imagine a doctor and a patient looking at such a device together, while the physician suggests online sources for further reading, or taps into scans and x-rays, or pulls up other key educational information. It may even be that something along the lines of an iPad will make online health records a widespread reality, at last.

Here’s the thing about some of us moms:  even when we can claim reasonable competence with tools, our lives are filled with moments in which the right tool simply isn’t at hand.  Thus, we can achieve repairs with butter knives and staples when need be, we can happily imagine and invent the tools we’d like to have, and we can rapidly adapt to new tools, enthusiastically playing a role in shaping their evolution.  Since we tend to spend quite a good bit of time learning from and with children, a creative imagination is one of our best qualities.

The iPad? AxisPortals can easily imagine the possibilities.  And that’s why iWant one very much, and am eagerly anticipating observing their influence on how we envision the role of technology in our lives.

AxisPortals Aphorism: Not sure what to do with a new techie toy?  Hand it to your mom or your child, stand back, and watch  what happens.  Oh, and don’t worry about the lamp with the faulty switch.  Mom rewired it yesterday.