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Whatever the iPad is, it is NOT a Computer

Not a Real Computer

  • April 19, 2010
  • By Emery Fletcher
Whatever the iPad is, it is NOT a computer.

Amid all the breathless hype about the iPad, I think one point has been severely overlooked: the iPad is not a computer, it is not a phone � it is constructed to be a receiving instrument. If it were an acronym, I would suggest it was PAD, Passive Amusement Device.

If you think that is too harsh an assessment, consider this, from an article by Lev Grossman in the recent Time magazine:

�The computer is the greatest all-purpose creativity tool since the pen... The iPad shifts the emphasis from creating content to merely absorbing and manipulating it. It mutes you, turns you back into a passive consumer of other peoples' masterpieces.�

Well, is that so bad? After all, you might say, it really does enable you to �consume other peoples' masterpieces�, which is no small feat. Of course you have to grant that's the same thing a computer does, or a laptop does, or a netbook does � the difference is, those devices let you talk back, add your voice to the topic, contribute your own masterpiece. And they do it at the same cost, often less.

Here's what I think is the most perfect illustration of the enormous shortcomings of the iPad, or � for that matter � any Passive Amusement Device. Imagine, as Mr. Jobs eloquently did, giving an iPad to kids at school: a single textbook for all courses, illustrated spectacularly with both static and active images. Grand idea, but �Don't write in your textbook!� Don't add your own notes. Don't contribute an insightful question, or submit an opposing opinion, or integrate what you're learning into your own life, in your own words.

Don't act, just absorb.

Pretty different from giving the same kid a laptop or a netbook, isn't it? With one of those, a kid can respond, can experiment, can act in the very way the human species most efficiently assimilates new skills and information: learn by doing. By the way, in case you hadn't noticed, the netbook costs less. Even the laptop often does.

And just wait till the next wave of tablets starts coming out this summer. You can be sure they won't all be PADs � some will be called Slates, and like their namesakes, the little slates used by every school child in the Nineteenth Century, they will be instruments on which to learn by doing, to practice everything from art to mathematics, to waste time doodling. To participate.

They will be real computers.

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