Honesty time: aside from my regular "I can't believe how much free advertising the media give every new product from Apple under the guise of newsworthiness" comment I don't really care about their gadgetry enough to learn the nuts and bolts. The user-end complaints – coverage, providers, bugs, software, "apps", etc. – are irrelevant to me and I cannot claim to be knowledgeable about them. I look at each new shiny doo-dad they release and, through a combination of meager income and technological misanthropy, decide that I don't need it. But the iPad is worth looking at a little more thoroughly.
Apple immodestly bills all of its products as market- and life-changing windows into the future. With the iPod, they were right. In a good way. It fits a stack of 1000 CDs in the footprint of a deck of cards. That's awesome. Good show, Apple. Kudos. With the iPhone, they were right in a not-so-good way. The device portends a future in which everyone can mindlessly kill time on the internet during those few moments each day when we are not parked in front of a real computer. I don't go out with other humans a lot, and I find myself wanting to do it even less now that it is socially acceptable (and damn common) for one to whip out a spacephone and start tapping away in the middle of a conversation. A real conversation, that is. But why talk to people when you can stare at Facebook? The iPhone and its non-Apple equivalents are ushering in a future dominated by the fake cyber world that Americans, especially the younger ones, increasingly inhabit to the exclusion of reality. Life is just a bunch of inconvenient crap you have to do so that you can photograph it and post the pics on Facebook.
What is the iPad? I mean, beyond all the hype and the technical specs, what is it? It's a fancy multimedia device. It's a vehicle for digital music, video/movies/TV, go-anywhere internet access, eBooks, and so on. I will leave to better thinkers the arguments about Apple's creepy obsession with top-down control of its technology, what with the computers that can't be opened and tinkered with and the very pointed (albeit not terribly successful) efforts to sell you music and movies in formats that are useless on non-Apple hardware. The more important question is what this thing says about us and our vision of progress. The iPad is the device you've been waiting for your entire life…as long as all you want to do is stare at the internet and buy shit unceasingly.
Let's not kid ourselves; its allure, if any, lies in the fact that the screen is much bigger than an iPhone. No more eyestrain or furrowing one's brow to watch videos on that tiny screen. Bigger touch-screen buttons for our fat American fingers. The last obstacle between you and never having to interact with or look at your surroundings again – the physical limitations imposed by the iPhone – are gone. That's the big achievement. That is the future. It is a future in which we are constantly staring at YouTube videos, episodes of 30 Rock, or the latest bestselling pap. We will plow through it so that we may buy more crap from Apple and plow through that as well. We will pause only to Tweet our mind-numbingly inane thoughts about standing in line at the grocery store or the latest Vince Vaughn "comedy."
This is the future, alright. We can rationalize our iPads the same way we rationalized our iPhones – "It'll be useful if I need to look up directions, or something! Totally worth it!" – but the end result will be no different. We will use this device to further distance ourselves from reality and from one another. We will use it to buy lots of shit in furtherance of that goal. The future is here, and the future is an expensive synthesis of Americans' two favorite activities: staring at lit screens and incurring credit card debt. Today's "World of Tomorrow" has no flying cars or moon bases. It's just a bunch of fat fuckers with no social skills staring at a screen and paying dearly for the privilege.