Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Anthropology of Tablet Computing

When the iPad first came out, I was baffled at its wild success. Now I think I understand.

I was originally perplexed at why an overpriced portable computer, unique only in what it lacked (a keyboard, ease of customization, heavy-duty discipline-specific for-work software) should be thought of by so many as a great advance; an essential addition to our technological arsenals which already ubiquitously include laptops of equivalent size and greater power. Such are my proclivities towards cybernetic totalism. I've now realized that the iPad's supremacy has nothing to do with it's technical capabilities. It has everything to do with the visual metaphor it employs.

This, on a date, would seem very rude:

While this does not:

I grew up around computers. The sight of a person working on a computer comes with its own gestalt psychological baggage. I fight it, as a professor, even when my students are using their laptops for good and not evil. I know, automatically and subconsciously, that a laptop is a portal to the hive-mind; to reddit and facebook, to asinine pictures and pointless chat. Now of course I know that about iPads, too, but I don't know it in the same way. The iPad exploits a collective unconscious lag in the modernization of our visual metaphors. Someone can be as rude and self-absorbed and removed as can be, but my subconscious reads it:

"I'm paying attention. Maybe taking notes, even."

The genius of the iPad was bridging the gap between the demands of our nonverbal culture and our addiction to the internet.

And I would predict that its are not the last dollars to be made in such a way.

RSS me, yo.

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