Oh, That’s Why People Like Tablets So Damn Much!

The so-called post-PC revolution came to my house. This has been my first weekend off in a couple of weeks, and though I’ve been browsing the Web, tweeting, and now blogging, I didn’t even turn on my computer yesterday, and if you know me at all, you know that the only reason this could be so would be if I was hospitalized and unconscious.

Look, I know. For millions of people, this is already how they live their digital lives (not unconscious, the whole post-PC thing) — without a “computer.” But I didn’t get it before. And I assure you, it’s not because of the new iPad announcement (lord if I could afford one), but rather because I began to boil down what I actually wanted to do on a device.

Let’s face it; even for so-called “power users,” which I sometimes fancy myself as being, 95% of what we do on our devices is low-intensity, passive consumption. We browse the Web, we check email, screw around on the social networks. Put apps and games and the like aside. Mostly, we’re sitting and staring at pictures and text. This does not require a 12-core Mac Pro and a Thunderbolt Display. But for a while, I was saying that it did at least require a MacBook Air; though underpowered in terms of processing heft, its physical slightness and its speedy solid state drive is/was more than enough for, again, 95% of what people actually do, save for software developers and feature film editors. Indeed, my contention has been that an 11” MacBook Air, which I have, entirely obviates the need for a tablet — it’s so small and light that something like an iPad would be redundant. A tablet, I thought, was a powerful-yet-mostly-unnecessary toy.

Especially if one already has an iPhone/smartphone — and an e-ink Kindle too! Tablets? Please.

But let me tell you what I think affects all of this, which I think may still be true in some contexts: not living alone.

Think of this. You’re sitting in the living room with your spouse or significant other. Nothing much is going on, there’s some light chatting, perhaps your partner is watching something on TV, but only half paying attention. You want to do your Web browsing (or as I usually refer to it, your dicking-around), and you have either your iPhone or your MacBook. If you’re on your iPhone, admit it, even in this day and age of Utter iPhone Ubiquity (UiU), you still look like a closed-off, toy-obsessed douche when your attention is focused on a 2.3 by 4.5-inch rectangle in your hand. You know it’s true. Even while you’re using your own smartphone in the most noble, serious, and non-douchey of ways, you still think other people on their phones look like douches. Or crazy.

But let’s say instead you opt for the MacBook (if you’re opting for a Windows PC, I don’t even know what to say to you). Well then, even with the smallest laptop, you’re opening up a two-paned device, the display of which instantly takes dominance within the horizon of one’s vision. Once you’ve opened up the laptop, even if you are doing nothing more than clicking a few likes on Facebook, to anyone else in the room you are now “on the computer,” and that’s it, you’re effectively not there. How many times have I heard, while doing nothing that commands my attention, heard from my lovely wife, “Do you have to be on the computer now?”

(And a Kindle? That’s a book. Different territory altogether. When you’ve got a book open, you’re reading a book, and people get that, and that’s what you’re doing on a Kindle, so this is not terribly relevant to this overall thesis.)

So: I received a Kindle Fire as a gift, and being a tablet doubter, I mainly disregarded it — not because I didn’t like it, it was obviously quite neat, but I figured that it was, as I said, redundant. But the more of my day-to-day work that I’ve done on my personal computer, and the more cognizant I’ve been of being present for my family without crunching my attention into my wee iPhone or disappearing behind a laptop display, the more I’ve wanted something that allowed me my dicking-around and a level of acceptable environmental and social awareness.

And there was that Kindle Fire.

It’s not a perfect device by any means. Both my iPhone and my MacBook are an order of magnitude better than the Fire at pretty much anything I’d want to do with it (save for reading books, which I do on my e-ink Kindle anyway). This is a big reason I neglected it. But in the contexts I’ve described above, it suddenly became the perfect device. A tablet allows for the casual, passive consumption of content without leaving the appearance of being absorbed in something that either looks like “work” (on a computer) or a “gadget” (on a phone).

In many ways (and may The Steve forgive me for saying so) it’s better than an iPad because of its size; being 7 inches makes it close in size to an unintrusive-looking trade paperback rather than the iPad which is more physically prominent, nearer to a clipboard in size. (I’m not crazy. A Retina Display and Apple’s seamless merging of hardware and software are much preferable to Amazon’s otherwise-laudable efforts in this arena. But I have what I have and can afford what I can afford.)

But more to the point, it’s become my primary device for that aforementioned 95% of stuff that I actually do. When I’m working on a piece of long form writing (like this post), doing more complex creative work like videos or presentations, or recording and mixing music, I absolutely want my completely awesome 11” MacBook Air, and probably attached to my 24-inch display. Taking pictures, making quick Twitter observations, or getting information wherever I am, I want my crazy-amazing iPhone 4S. But for just about everything else, I get it now. The tablet is the way to go.

I thought I’d miss heavy multi-tasking, quickly jumping between windows and applications, and having several things my field of attention at once, but I don’t — unless, again, I’m working on something. In almost all other cases, though, holding a medium-sized slate of glass and pixels makes by far the most sense.

I think my wife agrees. But I haven’t asked her, because I’ve been on the computer.

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