Many iPad reviews are in, but forget whether the thing works well or not; some critics are asking more pressing questions. Questions like, "Will the iPad destroy society as we know it?"
Well, that might be a little extreme. But Cory Doctorow's anti-iPad screed on BoingBoing accuses Apple of having created a device that has contempt for its owner, one that might leave your children intellectually crippled: "Buying an iPad for your kids [is]... a way of telling your offspring that even changing the batteries is something you have to leave to the professionals."
Meanwhile, Choire Sicha of The Awl writes, "My real objection to [the iPad] is that Apple has created a computing device that... has as a design concept the need to actively resist the urges of people to make things" (emphasis his). Doctorow's column led the New York Times to ask: will the iPad cause the end of innovation? Will it?
Um, no. Definitely not. Here's why.
The accusations against Apple's device are twofold. First, since you can't take it apart, or program for it or mod it easily, the device stifles the ability of its owners to make programs and experiment with technology. Second, the very idea of changing the computer from a machine meant for "accomplishing tasks" to one that's built around passive media consumption will eventually lead us to a world where nobody will create art, either visual or written.
Some might ask these writers why they're coming up with these arguments now. After all, you can't replace an iPhone or iPod's battery easily, and typing on either is even harder than typing on an iPad. But what scares critics now is that there's some possibility that the iPad will replace the laptop. There was no risk that the iPhone would become anyone's primary computer, but this time out critics are attacking the iPad not just as a single device, but as the future of computing.
A Device for the Masses
Even as the future of computing, the first argument — that we need to have access to our computers' innards and to be able to program a tablet — rings false. The iPad is a device for the masses, most of whom actively avoid writing code for their computers. Computer users are like car drivers, in that most of them would rather never have to pop their car's hood to make it work. Car enthusiasts can get old cars cheaply and fix them up so they run better than your average sedan. And they do. Great! I'm glad they're able to be creative that way, but I'd still be happier if I never had to think about the magical processes that let me travel at 75 mph with ease.
I'm more interested in Sicha's argument: that the iPad, in making the computer into a passive device, will stifle artistic creativity. Ahem. There's no danger that the iPad will turn us into couch potatoes: we are already couch potatoes. Do you think that someone who buys a laptop to play games and watch viral Internet videos is going to become more creative overnight simply because he can access a keyboard and mouse? Not likely.
The iPad Future
In this way, I believe that the iPad is not going to create a new kind of computer user, but will make it easier and more intuitive for consumers to do what they were already doing with their computers, which is to say, watching more YouTube than I can wrap my head around. The iPad is a mini TV to use while you're watching TV. If it alarms you that in a few years everyone will be watching TV on a small screen while they watch TV on a big screen, I'm sorry. That is the way things will be. But don't blame the iPad. Without it the same thing would be happening — is happening — on smartphones and laptops.
The iPad may be little more than a portable, Web-friendly television, but people who want to be creative will find great things to do with it that we haven't yet imagined. Did anyone ever expect an artist to paint a New Yorker cover using only his iPhone? Now one has, more than once. And if the iPad's lack of keyboard leads to more widespread use of voice-recognition technology, that could be a good thing. After all, keyboards are pretty terrible for your hands.
I'm not saying you should buy an iPad. While there is a lot of excitement among DVICE writers and editors about the shiny new gadget, some of us have mixed feelings about it. Is it necessary? Will it make our lives easier, or weigh us down? Will it break really easily? But we're not worried about the iPad making us any less creative.
If you're really worried about a world where technology reduces humans to the role of passive consumers, here's a tip for you: throw out your TV. Also, stop reading books, those single-purpose, passive paper devices. This will leave you with a lot more time to look under the hood of your laptop or to write the Great American Novel — which, if society continues in the proper, creative, direction, nobody will ever read.