Why the iPad is a creativity machine

The naysayers who argue it's only for consuming digital content are wrong

You've heard the case against Apple's iPad. It's a media consumption device for mindless couch potatoes. It's a step back in the evolution of computing, because it turns users into passive consumers of content, rather than creators.

"The iPad," journalism professor and blogger Jeff Jarvis proclaimed, "is retrograde. It tries to turn us back into an audience again." His evidence includes the TIME Magazine app, which lacks links and reader commenting, and the iPad's lack of iPad camera and USB port.

O'Reilly Radar blogger Jim Stogdill argued that "the iPad isn't a computer, it's a distribution channel."

The Slate Culture Gabfest podcast attempted an "audio unboxing" of the iPad. Unfortunately, they didn't know you had to plug it into a PC with an updated version of iTunes to activate. (They should spend less time watching The Wire, and more time on this Web site -- maybe they'd know these things.)

The cultural gabbers knew their "unboxing" was an epic fail. But they didn't seem to realize that the conversation about the tablet that ensued was an even bigger failure. They accepted as fact the false idea that the iPad is for content consumption only, and spent the remaining 20 minutes or so talking about whether a device useful exclusively for creating content is OK. One gabber talked about how people need to write e-mails and other things, adding, "I just don't think people are going to give that up."

Slate employs some of the most brilliant journalists working today. Where did they hear that using an iPad means giving up e-mail? They didn't. It's wishful thinking.

Does the tone of all this sound familiar? This is exactly the kind of irrational, knee-jerk opposition that greets all democratizing new forms of content creation.

When blogs first hit, professional journalists slammed the medium as dumbed down proof of the coming idiocracy. But now nearly all journalists and news publications have blogs. TV news commentators first laughed at Twitter as a place where people only broadcast the minutia of their daily lives. Now CNN has entire shows built around Twitter.

It's important to understand who these people are. They're the same kind of people who said automobiles are just a fad, who said nobody wants to hear movie actors talk, who said graphical computing isn't real computing. They believe themselves to be enlightened skeptics. In fact, they're just the kind of people that always come out of the woodwork when something breathtakingly new emerges. They can't see -- refuse to see -- the obvious possibilities in the new because it threatens their advantages in the old.

Where the urban legend comes from

Critics of the iPad argue that it's closed, and that open platforms such as Android or Linux should predominate. Others say the iPad is the ultimate point-of-sales device, redirecting sales of content to line Apple's pockets.

Those are legitimate concerns. But they have absolutely nothing to do with the question of whether the iPad can be used for content creation.

The truth is that, yes, the iPad is closed. Yes, its popularity places enormous power and money into the hands of Apple. But yes, it's also a fantastic device for the creation of content.

The iPad-can't-create-content insanity tells much about how far we've drifted off course as a creative animal.

Kids who grew up writing "research" papers by copying and pasting from the Wikipedia, listening to sampled music and buying their teen rebellion at the mall may not know what creativity actually is.

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Mike Elgan

Mike Elgan

Computerworld (US)
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