iPad Inevitability

I will not be getting an iPad. For one, I can’t afford one. But even if I could, I don’t really see the value of it. It’s too big to carry around comfortably, and most of its functions seem like they can be performed by other tools. It functions as an e-reader, but the Kindle and other devices supposedly have better screens for reading. You can play music on it, but it’s much bigger and more cumbersome than an iPod, and you can’t share libraries on the same network like you can with a laptop. You can do things like type and watch videos on this, but not as well as you can do them on a laptop or an actual TV, and the iPad makes them only marginally more convenient.

Can I see the value of being able to watch Parks & Recreation on the subway? I guess, but I’d probably rather just wait until I get home. Basically, I can’t see the iPad allowing me to perform any function I currently crave.

But here’s the thing: I know that, eventually, I’m going to get one. It won’t be this year, and it may not be for a while—it may not even be an iPad. But there will come a point when not having an iPad or an iPad-like device will seem like some kind of statement. The only reasons not to have one will be because you actively choose not to, like people who don’t have TVs, or because you just can’t keep up. I already feel left behind because I don’t have an iPhone or a Blackberry…

I remember when I entered high school, in 2001, and found out that a bunch of my friends were getting cell phones. This seemed totally ludicrous to me. I think my parents had cell phones at that point, but they hardly ever used them. It was ridiculous to think that my peers needed them. It seemed gaudy and extravagant. I literally could not imagine a time in which a 14-year-old would need a cell phone.

This sounds, in retrospect, pretty stupid. It’s hard for me to even understand my logic. But this is how invention works, as many other people have pointed out, from Jared Diamond to Chuck Klosterman: We like to think that we identify a specific need and then fill it, but technology really progresses by coming up with stuff and then figuring out how people like to use it. As a result, the first response to new technologies is usually something like, “Why on Earth would I need that?” which then evolves quickly into, “Well, I guess I’ll get one.”

Initially I didn’t understand why anyone would use Twitter, but I quickly saw its value. When I got my first iPod (which–so this post doesn’t portray me as a complete Luddite–I immediately recognized the value of, and got sometime in 2003), my parents and even some of my peers could not fathom why I would need 2,500 songs at once. Now, the inability of my current iPod to hold more than 12,000 songs infuriates me to no end. Technology works by turning fantasies into extravagancies, extravagancies into luxuries, luxuries into basic commodities, and basic commodities into necessities. So even though the current iPad has kinks and doesn’t seem useful to me, it (“it” meaning more “tablet computers in general” as opposed to this specific product, though it’s hard to see anyone competing with Apple at this point) will eventually be something I can’t live without.

This is, in general, a good thing. You do not need to convince me of the virtues of technology. But there is something depressing about the idea that writing this post on a laptop with buttons will seem utterly archaic a few years from now. After all, I like my laptop, I like reading actual books, and I appreciate the 10% of my day that isn’t spent staring at a glowing rectangle; it’s a little bit disconcerting to think that, in a few years, all those things will seem hopelessly outdated, like wondering why anyone would need a cell phone.

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