22 February 2011
iPad -- Threat or Menace?!
For all sorts of reasons, ranging from legitimate need to simple base consumerist desire, I've been wanting an iPad lately. I've talked to my brother extensively about his. I've approached my Dean about getting one for work. I've contemplated squirreling away some of our tax refund for a purchase. The fact is I certainly don't NEED one (do you ever NEED something like this, anyway?). I want one, and in various ways I am trying to either justify it's purchase or really figure out if I will use it enough to, well, justify its purchase.
This being a university, we actually have iPads available from our library. This being a small, state university, we actually have ONE iPad available to check out from our library. Yesterday, I checked it out for the week.
(hang on, I am getting to the gaming parts)
Because it's the library's, there aren't really any apps on the thing. Nor can I download any, which is somewhat of a drag and defeats likely 75% of the point of the device. My daughter and I did watch some Curious George YouTube videos; I checked my email. I downloaded an academic paper I am going to respond to at a conference in March (but because there aren't any apps on the thing, I couldn't convert it to a format where I could make notes, which is a feature I am really interested in for work and gaming). There are also a decent number of books on the iPad, so I began reading Sh*t My Dad Says. Suddenly, I was 100 pages into the 150 page book. Whether that's a function of the book, which is really easy to read and very funny, or the device I am not sure. Certainly, on the machine 100 pages doesn't seem like 100 pages, even with the "finger flip" thing you do to turn the page. That's actually a nice visceral feature, which may make it better for me than the Kindle, where you just turn pages by pressing buttons.
Which brings me to the point of all this. One of the things I am really interested in an iPad is its gaming utility. As I get more and more gaming material on PDF, it just makes sense for it all to be on one device where I can access it easily at the gaming table. Printing all that stuff out is wasteful and cumbersome. Having a laptop at the table still feels very obtrusive for me, to the point where I avoid it at all costs when I run games. So it seems like the iPad would be the best of all possible worlds here, even as I doubt I can justify $500 for a gaming purchase.
But there's something else. I was surprised at how much I didn't mind and, in a certain sense, enjoyed reading Sh*t My Dad Says on the thing. As I put the iPad down on my bedside table to go to sleep (on top of two other real books I've been reading off and on for a month), I had a stab of fear. What if this thing causes me to not care about books anymore?
"Ludicrous!" I hear you cry. "You LOVE books! Your retirement dream is to open a small used book shop in some mountain town." All that is true. It's hard to imagine a life without the physical presence of books. I am a professor, for pete's sake. But then I think about the massive CD collection I had just a few years ago; all that music now resides on my hard drive. I don't even buy much music anymore, digital or no. (Although everyone should check out both the Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons. You may have seen them on the Grammys with Bob Dylan. They are both awesome). It's hard to say where the causal chain of my lack of concerted interest in music begins: did I stop buying CD's because I wasn't interested, or did I stop being interested because I stopped buying CD's?
With gaming material, things are similar but not identical. I haven't bought a physical game book in a long time, thought I've bought a few PDF's. Some of that is certainly because there's so much good stuff available for free. Some of it is just space limitations. With two kids and a smaller house, shelf space is at a premium. My developing frugality also leads me to constantly ask "Will I USE this gaming book? Will I play this game?" before buying anything. This is a good thing, as the two boxes of 3E books in the attic attest.
I've already changed the way I approach books, due to space and money issues. Until fairly recently, any book I bought or was given had some level of sacredness. I kept it. Period. This was true whether I liked it or not, whether I would read it again, or not, and whether I felt connected to the book in any way. I've moved past that now. Mass-market paperbacks are "disposable" for me, not in the sense that I actually throw them away, but in the sense that I get rid of them regularly. I try not to even buy them, actually. The books I buy are the books I want to keep. They are the books I want to have on my shelf, forever and ever. Maybe I will use them or read them again in the future. Maybe I think they say something about me that I want others (my children, especially) to know. Or maybe they represent a particular time or a particular place for me. I'm also moving to seeing books as art objects, so the physicality and beauty of the book as a thing is becoming more important.
Given the above, it would seem there is room on my shelf for both an e-reader and real books. The reader just takes the place of all those mass-market paperbacks I used to buy. The books on the shelf are there for particular reasons. But I look at the place where the CD rack used to be and wonder what lies down that road.