In Which I Ramble About Content, Shiny Packages, and My Love of Books

Many of my social networks seethed this week with conversation about Saturday’s initial deliveries of iPads. Debates swarmed about the viability of buying one, whether or not it was worth it, how one could possibly get by without it, and of course the initial debates of what it might be used for in libraries and whether or not we should be investing in them. I know NCSU has some coming, I’m sure they aren’t alone.

Though upon Apple’s initial announcement I was mildly intrigued, increasingly I am less charmed. A lot of it falls into what others have said: we don’t see a specific purpose for it. A laptop, I understand. A smart phone, I comprehend. An mp3 player, I’m permanently attached to when I’m traveling. That the majority of the utilities of these has been rolled into one for those using an iPhone, I grasp–particularly when hanging out with My-Friend-the-Laywer.

Part of it, too, for me is a little whiplash against consumerism. A lot of new and exciting tools and software have come at us in the past decade, the past five years even. Ten years ago I had a desktop computer. Now I have a digital camera, cell phone with full keypad and internet, two laptops (for my freelance stuff, they aren’t really “mine”), a desktop computer, and an mp3 player. Do I really need one more thing that needs to be charged, updated, where did I put the special screen cover and personal bag as I’ll need to carry it in something bigger than my purse?

I think one of the things that bothers me is that we’re increasingly buying packages without content. And that is what troubles me most about the Ipad. I’m not entirely clear on what it comes preloaded with but from the sounds of it, it doesn’t appear to be much. One can purchase any number of things to play and run on it, assuming of course that said things are sanctioned by Apple (at least until someone hacks it, which I anticipate to happen very soon if it hasn’t already), but it still strikes me as a watered down laptop that doesn’t have a full keyboard, on which I can’t multitask or do anything requiring Flash and for which I would end up paying yet more monthly subscription fees to somebody.

I certainly have any number of purchased items for which their purpose is to work with other content that I purchase separately. My DVD player is an excellent example of this. It serves no purpose other than to play DVDs I pop into it. It doesn’t record, transfer, any of those things. But it has a specific purpose in my life that I can identify and a boatload of content here at Chez Hedgehog to use with it, without further expense on my part.

I like purchasing content in final form. Owning a copy of that content. I have a suspicion that’s part of the reason I own so many books. When I buy them, I’ve bought them, I’ve paid for the final format, it’s mine and there I have it. I don’t need a secondary device to access the content, certainly not a proprietary one. My DVDs will play on any of my computers as well as my DVD player. I can also lend them to a friend without losing my proprietary gadget.

I was home on Friday and I spent nearly the entire day away from “screens”–computer screens, television screens, even my phone. Of course, there was some email that needed to be answered and I did that, but otherwise it was an incredibly peaceful day of me and the cat and a thunderstorm. I did radical things like brew endless pots of tea and read books I already owned.

I’m usually in front of some sort of computer screen 8-10 hours a day. Work puts me in front of a screen a minimum of 6-8 hours a day. Add any time spent on freelance or personal stuff, on my phone texting, clicking the TV on to catch an episode of Good Eats or Bones, and my sporadic addiction to games like Peggle or BubbleTown and suddenly it’s been 12 hours. And in a way all too familiar to those who do it too, I’m exhausted. I’m always multi-screen-tasking, even now I have six tabs open in Firefox.  Being able to step away, to not feel plugged in to one of my own gadgets, was a pleasant change. I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve felt so anti-ereader. I can certainly see a purpose and no doubt the next time I move someone will lecture me about how much lighter and easier it would be to move me were I to shed the 7 packed bookshelves. But I like the option to disconnect. I like having something that doesn’t require charging. (*insert side comment about the fact that I knit and that doesn’t require batteries either, nor “added content” once I’ve bought the yarn and needles*/end blogjack)

Ten years ago, I had one gadget that needed a subscription, plugged in, that I purchased a lot of content, etc. Now, I have at least six (eight if you add in the TV and DVD player). I think we’re swinging back towards fewer devices, with the iPhone probably the best example of leading the way–combining web, phone, and music–which are the big three I think. And I’m skeptical of first generation just about anything….

But I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to own the content I’ve purchased, wanting to focus my purchases on tools that are useful and not just objects that require more purchases and cash outlay, and a move from proprietary to cross platform. And if record circulation numbers at my library are any indication, I’m not the only one who still likes reading in book format.