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  (Curtis Lantinga)


(Curtis Lantinga)

Margaret Wente

I need an app for my iPad habit Add to ...

Last month, I fought my way into the Apple Store in downtown Toronto. It was jammed. It always is. A friendly guy in tats and piercings greeted me. He was probably 22.

“I’d like to buy an iPad,” I said.

He seemed relaxed dealing with a flustered lady who must be his grandmother’s age. “White or black?” he asked. That stumped me right off, so he carefully explained the merits of each colour. I chose white.

I got an iPad because my girlfriend Laura has one. She told me that once I had one, I wouldn’t want to live without it. Unfortunately, she was right. My iPad is more addictive than anything I’ve ever owned. It gives me everything I need except for sex and chocolate bars.

After I got my iPad I took it with me on holiday with some friends. We rented a house by the ocean. Here is a picture of how we spent our time. We sat around in our shorts and stared at our iPads. I have a photograph of this – taken on an iPad, of course.

The iPad will “turn millions of users into defenceless junkies,” predicted tech writer Mike Elgan back in April of 2010, a mere week after the first iPad came out. He was right. Since then people have bought more than 55 million of them – iPads are now the fastest-selling non-phone electronic devices in the world. They’re outselling Apple’s own computers by 2 to 1. Some people think they’ll soon be more popular than PCs.

My iPad makes my PC and my e-reader seem so last-century – clunky, slow and coarse. I love the way my fingers can make things big, or make them disappear. I even like to answer e-mail on it. (I just keep my answers very short.) I have proudly figured out how to download Downton Abbey, The New Yorker and other geezer stuff. I have an app that helps me identify the stars (celestial, not Hollywood), and apps that help me go to sleep. (My friend Lola, who is a relentless self-improver, uses TED talks to help her go to sleep.) My worst vice is Sudoku. There’s something mesmerizing about filling in all those boxes. I can play Sudoku for hours. I have cracked the Expert level, and my highest score is 79,804. I tell myself I’m warding off Alzheimer’s.

What makes my iPad so addictive? Human beings love novelty and stimulation, and the iPad provides an inexhaustible supply. Unlike sloths (but like orangutans, who also love to play with iPads), our boredom thresholds are very low. The downside is that our attention spans are regressing to the level of orangutans. I’ve downloaded Moby-Dick, but will I ever finish it? I doubt it.

We also love being plugged in. We say we want to get away from it all, but that’s a lie. What we really want is to know what’s going on. That’s why my friends and I spent most of our vacation browsing news sites and madly e-mailing the folks back home.

My husband likes my iPad because he can read the morning paper on it over breakfast. No matter where we are, he can behave exactly as he does back home. On vacation, he buried his head in the sports pages, metaphorically speaking, and ignored the rest of us until I snatched my iPad back. That’s the biggest irony of these gizmos. They do keep you connected – just not with the people you are actually spending time with. A few years ago, I suspect I interacted much more with friends on holiday together. We used an ancient medium called conversation.

But the real magic of the iPad is that you can do a lot of stuff you never thought of. One disabled man I know has had his life transformed by the GarageBand app. (I know for a fact that even cabinet ministers can be GarageBand junkies.) Another friend has found a passion for making art. The iPad can restore the gift of reading to people with macular degeneration. It has terrific storybook and education apps for kids. I haven’t even mentioned Fruit Ninja. Whatever you do, do not download Fruit Ninja.

I offer up this story as a cautionary tale. If even I have bought an iPad, you know the tipping point has come. Like it or not, we are all part of Steve Jobs’s master plan, which was to dream up products and experiences the upper middle class masses couldn’t possibly resist. Mr. Jobs did not believe in focus groups, because, as he said, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” As one Apple veteran put it, “The Apple focus group was the right hemisphere of Steve’s brain talking to the left one.”

Not everybody loves the iPad. It’s manufactured in Chinese sweatshops where people are overworked and underpaid. Apple has exported jobs to China while Americans are out of work. And the iPad is pulverizing the competition – not just other tablets, but netbooks, PCs, even children’s toys. “The unprecedented success of the iPad is laying waste to products, product categories, companies and even entire industries,” writes Mike Elgan, “and nobody can stop it.”

Soon we’ll all be defenceless junkies. Maybe there’s an app for that.

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