Apple's New Tablet: A Bitter Pill to Swallow?

Posted by: Bruce Weinstein on January 27, 2010

The tech world is abuzz over the revelation of Apple’s latest gizmo, the iPad. The only negative press that I’ve seen thus far has to do with whether John & Jane Q. Public will be able to afford the device, which starts at $500. But expense isn’t the most pressing problem surrounding the Apple tablet.

At the risk of being a curmudgeon or Luddite, let me ask simple question:

Does our society truly need one more high-tech distraction?

We’re more obsessed with our toys than ever before. What I wrote in BusinessWeek.com when Apple released its iPhone in 2007 is, sadly, still true:

Our society has devolved into a mass of turned-on, tuned-out, and plugged-in technophiles. Whatever distinction used to exist between public and private life is all but gone, as one can witness on any city street, bus, plane, or shopping mall. Waiting in line at the grocery store or post office used to mean striking up a conversation with the person in front of you. It now involves blurting the intimate details of one's love life into a cell phone for all to hear or scrolling through a playlist for just the right song, or surfing the Web for something we want but don't really need.

I coined the term “iSolation” to refer to way that technology is coming between us. Yes, our gadgets have brought us many wonderful things: we connect to long-lost friends on Facebook; we submit resumes to prospective employers electronically rather than by destroying trees and polluting the environment with ink and toner; we even dash off blogs like this one to comment on breaking news and to stimulate instantaneous debate.

But the costs of iSolation are real and significant. The New York Times recently explored the dangers that walking with a cell phone poses to pedestrians and drivers alike. It’s just a matter of time before someone walking down the street with an Apple tablet hurts or kills someone else (or him/herself).

I’m not suggesting that tech companies like Apple should shut down their research and development departments. Technology is morally neutral; it can be put to good or harmful purposes. The problem isn’t Apple; it’s that we’re a nation of idiots. We believe that just because we can do something, then we ought to do it. If it’s possible to drive while texting—well, why not indulge? True, this dramatically increases the risk of having a car accident, but that’s a risk that applies only to other people, right?

It’s time to wake up from the fantasy that there are no consequences to the wonderful playthings we surround ourselves with. I’m just as curious as you are to see how cool the Apple tablet will be. Maybe I’ll even get one (!). But I hope I’ll be able to resist the temptation to spend more time with it than I do with my lovely bride, my family and friends, or my thoughts while I’m walking down the street.

The Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible speaks of “a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” There’s also a time to enjoy the bounties of the latest brilliant invention, and a time to turn the dad-blasted thing off and experience the joys of life offline, in person, and unmediated by a glowing screen.

Dr. Bruce Weinstein, The Ethics Guy, is the author of Is It Still Cheating If I Don’t Get Caught? (Macmillan/Roaring Brook Press, 2009). Contact him through his Web site, TheEthicsGuy.com.

Reader Comments

monkeyfurball

January 27, 2010 5:08 PM

This iPad replaces your newspaper, your books, shopping list, library, paper envelope and pen, photo album, stereo player and a few thousand cd's. And the reporter doesn't think the iPad is necessary. Things like this save time by making you more efficient. If you are having trouble finding time off with your family, then the problem is you, and not the iPad.

DanTe

January 27, 2010 5:38 PM

For those of us who use electronic devises to read newspapers, books shopping lists et al, we ALREADY use our smart phones for that. As the catch phrase on SpikeTV goes: "Stupid Monkey"

Dar

January 27, 2010 5:41 PM

The Logitech 900 remote control, for example, is $400. I think there is a huge market for a ubiquitous tech appliance at $500.

A Rothman

January 27, 2010 6:18 PM

@Monkeyfurball, if I don't have time to spend with my family, I cut out all those items you mentioned. My family comes first, not tucked in between caffeine fueled sessions with everything hi tech.

@Dar, how many has Logitech sold? A couple of thousand? If it hasn't sold a million units, I am unimpressed that it is a necessary device.

iphonerulez

January 27, 2010 6:35 PM

Monkeyfurball, you forgot about the thousands of games. Honestly, some of these bloggers are very dense. On one site, the author was complaining that you couldn't make phone calls from the tablet even though it had 3G. Whoever said a tablet is used to make phone calls. The Kindle doesn't make phone calls either. I don't know if the iPad even has a microphone to do voice recording.

Not everyone has a smartphone, so use your browsing smartphone to see how small a percentage of the population actually does have a smartphone. Apple isn't building it for tech-smart people like yourself that knows everything. Apple is building it for the millions of users that need something very simple to use. Hopefully, there'll be lot of non-tech users looking for something they can quickly use without having to boot some clunky Windows device.

You tech-smart people know everything about processors, chipsets, OSes, etc. but know nearly nothing about how to sell products to people who are struggling with tech. Only a few tech-heads are looking for tablets that run full desktop OSes. The average consumer does not want to deal with that stuff. Ask a few of your non-tech friends if you don't believe me. When the tech-heads think a device is a major fail it will usually be a hit for the average consumer. Oooh, the iPad doesn't multi-task. Like the average Joe Blow gives a damn.

James McClure

January 27, 2010 7:01 PM

Another PhD with poor grammar! His initial question has been asked throughout history, regarding about everything that has been invented. Yes, polio vaccine had a known need but most inventions meet uses that few thought they 'must have'. How could we do without our mobile phones, now?

Techie

January 27, 2010 8:24 PM

Did you consider that the iPad might save the news media so that there is a market for bloggers such as you?

Chet

January 27, 2010 9:53 PM

Riddle me this!!!

Does it do FLASH????

Bruce Weinstein, Ph.D.

January 27, 2010 10:38 PM

Is there an ethical obligation to comment on the blog itself, rather than to rant or rave about whatever point one wishes to make about anything at all?

Husin O'Bama

January 27, 2010 11:22 PM

Thank God for the timely device to save the trees. Time to use the 10 hour battery life device to replace all printed materials.

Husin O'Bama

January 27, 2010 11:22 PM

Thank God for the timely device to save the trees. Time to use the 10 hour battery life device to replace all printed materials.

ras

January 28, 2010 9:56 AM

I basically agree with the article, but then I'm old. (>40)

I gave up my Blackberry because there were times when I gave it priority over my kids and wife, after hours.

Looking back, that was insane. Customers can deal with us during business hours. I'm not an emergency room physician and there is no reason I have to be reached after hours for business.

I think it was a timely written article made especially more so because your most recent publisher has jumped on the iPad bandwagon. (according to Jobs' slides) Your article has less to do with the iPad and more to do with how technology, while an enhancer, also can be a big distractor/detractor to our QOL.

ras

January 28, 2010 9:58 AM

Good article. It is important to realize that technology serves as both an enhancer and a detractor/distractor to our QOL.

Then again, I'm old. (>40)

halisi

January 28, 2010 1:13 PM

I agree! My mom agrees to the 10th power. I'm just waiting for the pad to be a full computer - then I'll get one :). Tuned in but also turned off.

gandy

January 28, 2010 1:31 PM

the save a tree debate is a joke...if trees aren't harvested fire will destroy the planet...if the population depends on electricity for every aspect of life...imagine the polution...hey how many times can you drop an ipad before you gotta buy a new one? gimme paper.
gamers...get a life.

Chinaski

January 28, 2010 3:13 PM

"The only negative press that I’ve seen thus far has to do with whether John & Jane Q. Public will be able to afford the device, which starts at $500."

Really? No negative press? The reception has been devastatingly negative, at least this side of the pond. No multitasking, no Flash, no keyboard, no GPS, no camera, no USB, no SD card reader. "A glorified iPhone without the phone".

Matt

January 30, 2010 3:27 AM

The argument that this is a good device to read extended text such as a novel or even a newspaper is poor. This is a backlit device that refreshes the screen constantly. As a result your eyes will hate you. Wait till a proper e-paper device with a static image is released in Australia.

Matt

January 30, 2010 3:29 AM

The argument that this is a good device to read extended text such as a novel or even a newspaper is poor. This is a backlit device that refreshes the screen constantly. As a result your eyes will hate you. Wait till a proper e-paper device with a static image is released in Australia.

Bob

February 1, 2010 10:25 PM

The pad certainly seems like an expensive toy that appears to be falling short. Regardless it will still sell well, the question is will meet or exceed Apples expectations.
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Jason

February 3, 2010 11:38 AM

Since when is technology morally neutral? Technology imports the values of its designers and users, unintended or not. A gun, for example, is valenced toward violence (intended). A tv is valenced towards isolation (unintended).

Sri

February 6, 2010 10:48 AM

I recently heard some news (from NPR) that SMS is killing face to face communications. This does not mean technology is responsible. This just means (IMHO) that SMS is being used improperly... In other words, the real app is yet to be found. Same with iPad. It may do wonders but how does it add to our culture, values (family values, interpersonal skills, interacting friends and neighbors) and make our lives better.

Products with such core values in mind will have a lasting effect on people. Product like iPhone and iPad will fade away as soon as one realizes that it can be better. Infact, I am pretty sure there are more than one Ipad versions in the making that Steve might be working on. But to capitalize with this business model is just short sighted.

OXYGEN

March 28, 2010 8:59 AM

Did you consider that the iPad might save the news media so that there is a market for bloggers such as you?

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