September 4, 2010 – 8:50 am
Photo of Jake ‘Andy Warhol’d’ on the iPad
I thought this would be a shorter blog post than usual. I wrote it on an iPad – and while that’s not as arduous as some people would have you think (“It needs a real keyboard!”) it’s a slower process than writing it on the laptop would be. I’m still getting used to it, in other words. But it wasn’t too bad. I’d say 40wpm rather than my usual 50.
But typing is not the only way to interact with digital media – and nor is taking a photograph.
One of the criticisms of the iPad as a device is that it assumes the user is a passive consumer. It’s advertised as a piece of technology on which you can read books, listen to music, watch movies, see photos and so on. “Lean back” rather than “lean forward” media.
But that’s not my experience of the device. In the less than 24 hours I’ve had my hands on one, I’ve done a lot of different stuff – and quite a bit of it has been creative and active. It’s all about the interface.
Creativity beyond typing
We talk a lot about “digital literacy” thinking it refers to the ability of people to use computers and access information and content. The analogue switchoff requires that citizens are not excluded. And as far as participation across all sectors of society is concerned, that’s important.
But literacy is about the ability to read and write. That is, it’s about creation and not just consumption.
As technology changes, the meaning of creative participation changes. There was a time, of course, when literacy meant making marks on a page, and then it became about the ability to use a typewriter or mouse and keyboard, as well as just read books and the screen.
But a multi-touch interface with a usable screen size is, I think, a game-changer.
Misreading the big touchscreen
The people who think that the iPad is an oversized phone that can’t make calls, or a rubbish laptop that lacks a ‘proper’ keyboard, haven’t given the matter a great deal of thought.
Moreover, the people who think that the iPad is simply a device for the passive consumption of older media forms (radio, television, records, films, photographs and books) haven’t considered the creative possibilities of a user interface that can be anything – and not just a pointer and a keyboard.
For instance, consider the potential to model music creation hardware (of all kinds) and imagine new and ‘impossible’ devices that could not exist in the world of physics. The Korg KAOSS pad gave an early indicator of what could happen when you leave the world of buttons and dials. This goes far further and offers the chance to have multiple, changing interfaces within the same context.
In other words, the multitouch screen tablet computer opens up potential for types of ‘lean forward’ interaction, creation and media forms that could not otherwise exist and that are potentially more accessible for a wider section of society – and for someone who’s interested in the idea of creativity being a public good, and not just a professional domain, that’s a pretty interesting development.
In other words – it becomes fun and easy to make things, and so more people do. And that’s good.
When you have a screen that’s not just for looking at – one that’s big enough to fit things on and work at a reasonable level of detail – the opportunities for new types of creative digital literacy are incredible.
Now, of course, I say this as a bit of an Apple fanboy, though not an uncritical one. That is to say, I don’t just like the iPad because it’s a sexy Mac product – though of course, the design is a bit of a winning feature. I like the iPad because it doesn’t fall between two stools, as the critics suggest. Quite the opposite.
The iPad, as a device, represents an interesting new territory of media – because it’s one that invites you to get in, get involved, and get your hands dirty, in the digital sense. And it’s far less exclusive than earlier media.
You hear stories of infants playing with them; 92 year-old grandmothers getting iPads as their first computer; people with disabilities having access to computing in an environment where typing may have been a problem in the past.
Yes, you can use it for playing pinball, watching YouTube clips and reading Dan Brown novels. But it doesn’t run out of options there. Or indeed, as long as app developers remain innovative, ever.
And yes, I’m aware that the device has limitations. All technologies do. I can’t do pottery on my stereo or take pictures with my bicycle. Those don’t seem to be design flaws. But within 24 hours of getting my hands on the iPad, I’m already excited about what this thing is capable of… And I suspect most of the best stuff it can do hasn’t been invented yet.
But I also suspect that some of it has. Can you point me towards any apps that you like that let you do interesting and creative stuff? I’m keen to put this thing through its paces.