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.


The Tech Rush: Get Moony Eyed

July 20, 2009

AxisPortals came of age during the moon frenzy.  She read Tom Corbett books, drank bright orange Tang, begged her mother to purchase SpaceFood Sticks (the chocolate version was just barely edible, but the taste wasn’t really the point–it was the idea of the thing that mattered), and could, like most children of that era,  do a perfect imitation of a NASA launch countdown.  “Lift-off” soon became part of the  everyday vocabulary of childhood.

Even the  family cookie jar bore witness to the urgency and romance of the space race.

Over the weekend, the fifteen year old that AxisPortals knows best observed, in passing, that he found Facebook rather dull.  Oh, he said, it had been fun for a little while, but with everyone (and their parents and grandparents) there–and with the endless invitations, applications, and updates–the initial appeal for him had faded considerably.  On the whole, he noted, MySpace, despite its current lack of cool, had been a whole lot more fun.  At least it could be readily tinkered with, and it wasn’t quite so parent heavy.  Somewhere in there, he sighed over the boredom of it all.

AxisPortals wonders what, if anything, in the technological realm today fills us with wonder and excitement?  What makes us want to dance in the moonlight all over again?

Countless  gurus inform us of how we can and should use technology to improve our personal and professional lives, but it’s just as important to tend to what captures our imaginations, what fires us up, what gets us moony and starry-eyed, what makes us want to reach for something more.

AxisPortals Aphorism: In the rush toward technology, don’t miss out on the romantic rush of dancing by light of the moon, or the sweet challenge of reaching for it.

Taking it to the Street

January 6, 2009

AxisPortals has spent many happy moments–and a few  bittersweet ones– using Google Maps’  “Street View” to stroll down memory lane. 

The irony of using high tech to indulge in flights of nostalgia isn’t lost on AxisPortals, but the plain fact of the matter is that the internet offers nostalgic satisfactions at every turn:  you can watch favorite television programs from  your youth, track down vintage toy ads, collect all of your old Halco and Collegeville costumes on eBay, and find images of all sorts of places, things, and people that have long since disappeared from your life. 

Street view offers one such trip into the past–a virtual visit to the far flung hometown that the viewer hasn’t set foot in for many years, for instance; conversely, it delivers a fairly up to date look at the place in question.  This is why the experience can be so bittersweet.  Places once much loved might be painfully changed, crumbling, abandoned, or simply gone.

AxisPortals uses street view  fairly innocently–to capture, for instance, images of a fondly remembered but long defunct neighborhood grocery store’s still striking architecture.

Street view  is also great for viewing parts of the world you’ve never visited, previewing a vacation spot, seeing what the building you’ll soon be navigating to in a strange city looks like and so forth.

Unfortunately, a stroll through street view is never entirely innocent, for it inherently involves big brotherish surveillance that has some folks concerned about their privacy.  After all, it’s not really possible to offer a copy of the whole world (eventually!) in virtual 3-D without occasionally recording a few things people don’t want seen (cars parked in forbidden places,  moments of unguarded back yard sunbathing, etc.) .  Even those with nothing in particular to hide might start to feel invaded if they spend much time pondering the idea that it’s brilliantly, terribly easy for anyone–anyone at all sitting at any computer at all located anywhere in the world at all–to walk down their streets, turning and gazing down driveways  or into  yards at will as the neighborhood dogs sleep on, oblivious and barkless.

So far, this technology involves only still images, so this isn’t quite like having a video camera constantly trained on your home or business so that a virtual walkthrough would always be in real time, but it’s not hard to imagine the next step, is it?

AxisPortals doesn’t intend to stop using the street view feature of Google Maps anytime soon. However, there’s significant tension here. 

Technology is a blessing; privacy is sacred.

Privacy is sacred; technology is a curse.

Can we preserve and protect the best of  both our technology and our privacy?  Can we honor them simultaneously? 

AxisPortals suggests taking a virtual stroll down the sidewalks of your neighborhood while you think about it.

AxisPortals Aphorism One:  Technological advances often outstrip our ability to deal with their ethical implications.