Friday, February 05, 2010

iPAD: a baby boomer, narrative device

Narrative nimbies

The iPAD puzzles me. What is it useful for? In the Steve Jobs launch we saw entire newspaper pages on the screen – but people don’t read entire newspapers online. I prefer online stuff because I don’t have to have contact with the fashion, style, food, sudoko, court circulars, minor sports and supplements that are of no interest to me. I want good articles, not entire newspapers.

Similarly with magazines; I don’t want the full page ads, problems pages and topics I’m not interested in. The web allows me to click to the quick and not be a slave to the editor’s narrative arc. The iPad is the dying device of the narrative nimbies who can’t face up to the fact that the limitations of pressed and printed paper needn’t carry over to the web.

Newspaper and magazine types aren’t salivating over the iPAD, they’re scared, because they’re no longer in control of the product and its distribution. In any case, they're followers, not leaders. The blood is being drained from them minute by minute, by the sharper, vampire medium that is the web. We no longer need the editorial narrative of a newspaper or magazine. That was just a function of content that had to be bundled and bulked out to make it commercially viable to distribute. One page newspapers and magazines make no sense.

Never ending story – why boomers don’t get social media

The iPads is big on sit back and watch media; weak on lean forward, user-created content. It’s a narrative media device, not a communication or create content device, a TV screen with web access.

My generation have been fed on a diet of fixed narratives. They’ve lapped up TV, movies and books for so long that they can’t see beyond its limitations. It’s their end-game, amusing themselves to death on stories. There’s nothing wrong with narrative-driven media – movies, novels, TV programmes, theatre – but to the exclusion of everything else? Bounded in the nutshell of packaged programmes and print, they can’t imagine the infinite space of created content and collaboration.

Groups for them are cosy little, middle-class book groups or film groups, chewing over a narrative that is clean; has a start, middle and end, and is professionally packaged. They can’t comprehend a medium that is simply a flow, with no narrative, no start, no middle and no end. It’s this open-endedness that scares them. They have become so used to consuming fixed narratives that they literally can’t imagine using a medium where it’s absent.

Why do otherwise open-minded people screw their face up when you suggest they use Facebook or Twitter? What do they fear? You can hear it in their responses to Twitter, “But what’s the point of telling people that you’re having a cup of tea….” (I’ve heard this particular line several times). Yet, rather than try it for even a few minutes, they’d rather let their love of narrative media condemn new media as a waste of time.

Email is enough to send them into a frenzy of worry about inboxes that never empty. That’s the whole damn point folks. It’s meant to fill up. There is no closure on email, Twitter or Facebook, because there’s no closure on life. Life goes on and Facebook and Twitter are the visible comet tails of those lives. It’s a never ending story, then you die!

Narrative device

So, for me, the iPAD is a backward, not forward looking device, that attempts to throw the trawl net off the back of the ship and scoop up all of those sinking fast narrative media, like newspapers and magazines, or the more solid bottom dwellers like movies and TV. But how many of us watch movies and TV on the move, some but precious few. And here's the really bad news for the narrative nimbies - iPAD users will have to get used to lots of blanks in the stories, because there's loads of Flash out there.


JM Stump said...

Interesting article. I think if different forms of media embrace not only the iPad, but other tablets in general, they could see new subscribers. I know I would love to have something this size for reading and casual surfing while I'm on the couch. I have a laptop now, but sometimes I want something inbetween it and my phone.

One thing I completely agree with is movies and TV on the go. I'm a twenty something and the only time I do this is on a plane or a long car ride where I'm not driving.

BunchberryFern said...

First: the Flash
My first thoughts were slightly outraged. There's no Flash! Apple hates eLearning etc.

Then I started reading and it turns out that pretty much everyone who knows anything about the underlying infrastructures of the web (ie not me, evidently) hates Flash. Most of the commenters I read seemed to think that Flash would die and few would notice.

Second: the looking backwards
I'm a natural anti-Apple person - it's completely irrational. And my first thoughts were similarly 'meh'.

But then I started reading stuff like this:

I think we've massively hugely vastly underestimated the democratising effects of the App.

Here's my prediction:
the boundary between App and Document is going to blur until the distinction is largely meaningless.

And that's not to mention the possibilities for doodling and diagramming using the touchscreen brushes.

Bruce Princeton said...

My initial reaction when I saw the Apple iPad was

confusion. What functionality does this device offer

over and above the Apple iPhone? And what market is

Apple aiming this device at?

Ian said...

Well - we'll see when we get our hands on the thing. Most of use consume much more content than we contribute, even when we are facebooking and twittering.
I have been looking forward for about 25 years to owning a thin portable device on which I can carry all my documents, and access all sorts of information - news, comment, essays, research etc. I want a simple interface - no keyboard and no mouse - just direct interaction with the documents and it looks to me like the iPad is the device that I have been waiting for.

Sundar said...

Don, interesting blog. We are developing an eLearning App for the iphone and iPad coming out in April. I think you may underestimate the power of the appstore for eLearning.

best, Sundar

Unknown said...

Donald, this is not about this post but no other way to contact you. Thought you might like this:

Anonymous said...

So unsurprisingly, it's the young and highly social who are most lightly to buy an iPad leaving the Baby Boomers to just 'not get it'.

Unknown said...

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