Thursday, April 8, 2010

Bye bye mon laptop

Are they talking about the iPad or me?

Bad bit of stand-up I used to do in the old days:
"The other day, out of the blue, my grandmother asked me, "What's the Internet?" And I said, "The Internet is a wonderful learning tool, grandma."

"She said, "Yeah, what has it taught you?" I said, "Well...mostly how to type with one hand."
Cue the tumbleweeds.

Take a tablet, and call me in the morning

Little did I know that a lame sex joke would foresee why the era of the tablet and mobile computing is upon us: because you can use it with one hand and take it to bed with you.

Joke all you like, grandma, or even make the standard maxiPad joke, but this is the reason why Apple's iPad will be the first in a long line of tablet-computing devices that will make the laptop a thing of the past, sooner rather than later.

Kindle, meet iPhone

I've been using the Amazon Kindle for the past six months or so, and it's changed the way I consume the news and books, get them delivered, and even think about them. I now look at chumps on the bus fighting with the Globe and Mail and giant Stephen King novels and think, "Suckas."

I've been using my iPhone for the past year, and - as anyone who reads this blog regularly knows: I think that it's crazy great. Damn the phone part, it's mobile computing, Internet, newspaper, magazine, email, music, TV, video game system, and (I'm pretty sure) straight razor. And, I ask you, what woman doesn't like her man to have a clean, close shave?

I got a crack in my iPhone last week; "Better than an iPhone in my crack," I said to the unblinking and self-professed hungry clerk. I had to be without my love for two hours. "The dingo took the baby!" I shouted until a new iPhone was returned to my hand.

The one thing, however, that makes the iPhone a chore and not a pleasure is surfing the net on such a tiny screen. I totally get where the iPad came from: "Let's give 'em a big iPhone!" The iPad is being heavily criticized for being just that, but that's like criticizing a cow for mooing when you get milk every day.

Did that metaphor work? No? Let's move on.

We'll always have paper. Cough.

Here's the thing: the iPad will let us do what the Kindle and iPhone do, but better, allowing us a larger canvas and window on the world with which to do it; this isn't just a little laptop, it's a new way for communicators to tell stories that grip readers by the throat and take them on a journey that they and we haven't even begun to imagine.

If some of the traditional media doesn't get it yet, it will. As "Fake Steve Jobs" points out in the current issue of Wired ("Rise of the Machines: How Tablets Will Change the World"):
"Frankly, I don't read magazines or newspapers, and if every last one of you were all erased from the planet tomorrow, I would not notice and I would not care. Having said that, I wish you all the best in whatever future careers you choose. Gardening, I've heard is very peaceful."
Ouch. I don't have the heart to quote the last part of the insult, which involves manure.

I have an ongoing debate with a friend, and here's how it goes:
Friend: There will always be paper.
Me: No there won't.
Him: Yes there will.
Me: No there won't.
Him: Yes there will.
Lights go out. Gun shot.
I really believe I'm right. So does he. However, I don't have the heart to bring up the iPad in our debate. Just seems cruel.

But it's gotta be hard out there for a paper advocate when technology pioneer Kevin Kelly describes the future of tablets in Wired as such:
"You'll be able to see into movies, pictures, rooms, Web pages, places, and books seamlessly. It will have a built-in camera and idiot-proof video-editing tools, and it will also serve as a portable movie screen, eventually enabled for 3D. It will remake book publishing and Hollywood, because it creates a transmedia that conflates books and video. You get TV you read, books you watch, movies you touch."
Technology, meet school

So, I have to admit to feeling a little depressed when I heard that Creative Communications - the program in which I teach - is surveying students about becoming a laptop program in September 2011.

At this rate, we'll become an iPad program in 2021, at which point I will be, like, 1,000 years old. "In my day we used to wear thongs...on our feet!" Not pretty, eh?

Laptop program aside, I recently formed a technology committee with some of my fellow Creative Arts instructors in DMT, CreComm, and Graphic Design, and submitted a proposal to introduce mobile media to Creative Arts at Red River College.

The proposal, of course, is dependent on getting a grant, which we hope to do. Here's to hoping.

No, we're not going to get iPads for our students anytime soon, though that could happen if they become cheap and ubiquitous (the iPads, not the students). But we can get our students to engage with mobile media in the classroom and build something that you can download onto an iPad or iPhone.

The plan

So, we're proposing a partnership between programs to build a visually dynamic, interactive, digital magazine created for mobile online media and presented in the form of a standalone Creative Arts mobile app.

For students currently enrolled in the program: imagine the magazine project that you download on the iPhone or iPad that moves around, talks to you, and "listens" to your touch commands.

The app would function as a marketing tool for Creative Arts, the college, and our students - usable as a mobile portfolio piece and be available to download by the communications industry and future employers at large.

We've already got a potential community partner interested in being involved in the production, though I don't want to get too heavy into the details at this point, since so much of it is "if" and "TBA."

In this plan, the CreComm students are the mobile content providers, the graphic design students handle the online magazine's design and structure, and the DMT students program the motion graphics and app.

The idea for this project was hatched after I attended a meeting with the CreComm advisory committee, made up of industry leaders in the broadcast, ad, PR, and journalism fields. The members stressed the importance of our students learning about audience engagement, mobility, new media, and attracting a profitable target audience.

Before I start getting too self-congratulatory, I must point out that what we're proposing is already a mainstay in some academic environments: the U of Saskatchewan has an iPhone app - iUSask - for students to find their classes, get library books, and check their grades, and the University of Missouri makes the iPhone or iPod Touch mandatory for its communication students.

And with the iPad just days old in the U.S., we've already seen our first iPad school.

It's my hope that this project would bring at least part of this innovation and communication revolution to CreComm. It would make our grads more valuable in the marketplace, position them for future success, and predict (I'll bet) RRC's eventual adoption of the mobile format.

And if I'm wrong, I'll be the guy teaching "The History of the iPad" class in W215 starting in 2021.


  1. I think this paragraph pinpoints the power of paper perfectly (did you just see that alliteration!?):

    "Placelessness is a huge problem. With a paper magazine, newspaper, or book, you know where you are and how much remains based on the pages in your hands."

    Reading electronic stuff is like taking a trip somewhere without directions: I have no idea how long it's going to take and I'm worried the drive will never end.

    (Sidenote: my word verification for this comment was 'focker.')

  2. I will probably get an iPhone in the next 4-6 months, and I would consider getting an iPad or similar device in the next 1-2 years.

    That being said, nothing can replace the experience of walking through River Heights to Comics America, fending off the commercial advances of the proprietor, walking back home with a hot cup of Starbucks, and leafing through the latest issue of Supernerd.

    It's the hunter/gatherer instinct. I physically need to go out and obtain certain things and interact with them to feel contented - and books do that for me. And I think there are still millions of people who feel the same way.

    I do think you're right about paper disappearing more and more though, but I think it'll be more of a generational shift as young people today (and tomorrow)are less sentimental about woodpulp.

    I said "no" to the laptop program idea, simply because the IT department at RRC would never be able to keep up with the required maintenance.

    I think the iPad program idea would be pioneering though, and I always tip my hat to a pioneer.

    Good luck!

  3. Never understood why RRC has to be involved in the maintenance issue. When something breaks, I take it back to the store.

  4. Wow, way to go Pennsylvania! If I didn't already have a MacBook Pro I'd be gleefully awaiting iPad's arrival in Canada. That being said, I may convince my wife to buy one so that we can both surf the net anywhere in our home individually.

    My iPhone purchase is just around the corner. I will be buying one once school is out and I have the time to play with it and not be distracted by, ahem, assignments.

  5. I really want to know how portable the keyboard dock is. How is the iPad for writing anything longer than a blog post? Someone still presumably has to write all these electronic books and newspapers of which you speak.

  6. "I like reading in the bath and I'm clumsy" seems to be my biggest defense for paper, but there's a lot more to it. I'm going to echo that "thrill of the hunt" sentiment expressed by Jay Booth - it's why I rarely order off of Amazon and only buy used vinyl at record stores that I happen to be in. It's more rewarding to have a limited number of objects.

    Also, Christmas morning with my family would be boring as hell without paper and plastic. "Here's an audio file. I've attached the download link." "Here's an e-book. I'll email it to you later."


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