It's heavier than I thought.
There I was in my local Apple store on the first day of the iPad's release with this futuristic black slab of technology right in front of me. I looked around and my fellow iPadistas were, on average, about 15 years old. Hardly anyone spoke. The intensity of attention around the try-out table was unnerving. We all held the future in our hands.
But what kind of future? A quick look around suggested that we will all be playing a lot more car racing games and watching a lot more video and showing off our photos to a much wider group of people -- including folks on the other side of the room or bus or airplane, given the size of the screen. The image is rich, the experience highly immersive, and the controls are more than a little intuitive. It calls out to be touched, to be held, and to be stroked on to the next page or picture or app. It's so easy a 2-year old can do it.
Which lead me to believe that what I was holding was the very real promise of a new dawn in how we teach our kids. Or, more precisely, how they might teach themselves to interact and produce and edit the knowledge necessary to make it in the 21st century.
What if the ridiculously heavy text books my daughter lugs around her middle school were all reduced to pixels on this one and a half pound tablet? And if the publishers of these texts could instantly update their work, set new tasks and could receive feedback and suggestions from the kids and the teachers that interact with them? And with the galaxy of apps already flooding the market, what riches lie in store for the curious and otherwise uninterested kids who find paper and pen too restrictive for their tabula rasa minds? One iPad per child could very well usher in the kind of transformative change that many have called for in our mostly 19th century-bound schools.
It could also transform another industry. Pornography has led the way in a number of technological advances from film to video to early websites and hand held devices. Now we're in for iPad porn. Digital Playground was one of the first to announce that they have optimized their content for the high resolution, ten-inch screen.
Up to now, consuming porn on computer screens has mostly been behind closed doors. The highly portable, yet easily viewed iPad promises to bring a whole range of inappropriate content into public places for others, including kids, to inadvertently see. Apple will have to address the clamor for better parental controls and provide a more consistent approach to this issue, particularly if the iPad is to realize its potential as the learning tool of the future.
So here, in this shiny new hi-tech package, is both the promise and the peril of our always-on, connected digital world. Its enigmatic shape, look and feel reminds me of the similarly inscrutable black slab in "2001: A Space Odyssey". Are we the adoring apes who will make an evolutionary leap once we've come into contact with this mysterious new technology? Will it make us richer or poorer? Will it usher in a new way of teaching and learning or will it dumb us down and accelerate the pornification of our already over-sexualized culture?
It's a heavy thought.