This morning I went to the local Apple store and picked up my iPad. I have been dying for a way to bring my PDF library with me for some time. My work revolves around reading and since I commute and travel it’s difficult not to have texts with me. In fourteen years of teaching, I’ve never had a proper office with a bookshelf and my current office, at Columbia’s Studio-X, doesn’t have room for more than a few books. A tablet full of PDFs struck me as a good replacement for the books in my library that don’t have high-resolution imagery. Moreover, putting PDFs on a tablet for use in during class discussions strikes me as a better way to go paperless in the classroom. I forget photocopies from time to time and a tablet is more like a sheet of paper than a laptop is. I can put it down and it’s no longer a physical artifact between my students and myself.
My initial impression is that this will be a tremendous success for me. I have hundreds of books in Papers on my Macs and can read them in Skim on either computer or in the Papers application on the iPad. It’s frustrating not having highlighting yet, but this will come either via Papers or a competitor.
To be sure, I have mixed feelings. I don’t like the closed nature of the App Store and I am wary of adding yet another product from the Apple ecosystem into my workflow. Still, just as the Kindle spurred the iPad, the iPad will, I hope, spur competitors. And I doubt that calling this the decade in which computing becomes pervasive will be much of a mistake. Computing is already pervasive.
It was enlightening to stand in line and discuss the different usage scenarios with the other purchasers. One individual is an artist who wants to use it as a sketchpad (I’m afraid that I would not buy Moleskine stock after today…my Moleskine is likely to be a victim), another is a photographer who wants to bring his portfolio with him, a third works with autistic children and uses the iPod Touch with them, a fourth thought he would use it for medical applications. I also see the tablet as an ideal device for the aging baby-boomer set whole will use it to browse the Web, make purchases, read magazines, do the New York Times crosswords, see pictures of the grandkids, and watch Netflix on it.
To some degree, it will spur new, media-rich publications. At the same time, these are difficult to make and even more difficult to capitalize. This decade will be devastating to media in this regard—and the last decade was already bad. Recently, I was at a lecture where someone suggested that his students weren’t familiar with CDs, that they used iTunes to purchase their music. Actually, he was grossly mistaken. Young people today simply don’t purchase music, they Torrent it or download it from Rapidshare. There are already large numbers of texts— academic and commercial—available for free from pirate sites. It’s a losing battle to fight this. I’m sure that some sites will be shut down, but others will open up. Moreover book piracy is immensely attractive to individuals doing research or teaching in foreign countries. A colleague from the developing world mentioned that she would use my writing in her courses because so little material on contemporary architecture was on the Web. Today she would have a choice of hundreds of books, all available to download freely, if illegally. Foreign governments will tacitly look the other way. Why should the US, the EU, and Japan have the knowledge? My children’s generation will find books purchasing as foreign as music purchasing is for the millenials.
Having easily searchable text will transform scholarship. Reading scholarly books cover to cover may become as odd as listening to albums cover to cover. My colleague at AUDC, Robert Sumrell suggests that complete availability and the ease of search will undo the need to read books at all. To some extent, I suppose it will. Moreover, the staggering amount of knowledge that will be at your fingertips may well act as a disincentive to create. The music industry hasn’t just collapsed because nobody is purchasing music: there haven’t been any new movements since hip-hop, alternative, and electronica. In part, this may be because technology now makes it possible to produce any sounds you can conceive of so technology is actually not a driver for music anymore and in part, this may be because local scenes just don’t develop the way they used to now that music spreads across the world in minutes. When everything is known, Baudrillard would suggest, we have no need for anything anymore. This is a polemic of course, but I think it makes some sense too.
There’s a lot of noise now about how media-rich magazines will be solve the problem of monetizing content for the press. But who will pay for all that media and all that design? Magazines are already strapped. I am not convinced that this will work, at least not for the majority of publications.
All that said (and I thought I’d mention that all this was written on an iPad that I am using a bluetooth keyboard with), I can’t deny that the iPad makes me feel like it’s 2010, just as using a DVD for the first time in bed on my laptop in 2001 (and yes, it WAS 2001: A Space Odyssey) made me feel like it was 2001. Welcome to the future, now let’s see how we survive it.
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