Skip to content

Pink Mattress, Highway 13

The pink mattress lay in the middle of the road, as unmistakable as a glass of Pepto-Bismol. I was rounding Highway 13 about 9 p.m. in early November, just a week after I had returned to California. The sloped, unlit road had no shoulder and my headlights bore on the mattress occupying the bulk of my lane as if it were my sudden, unfortunate, unavoidable destiny.

My hands jerked the steering wheel. Right. Left. Right. And my car floated magically up and around the mattress, skimming around it by the slimmest of margins and gliding back onto Highway 13, to safety and then to the temporary apartment that was my waystation home, where I buckled into a chair and just breathed for a while.

To this day I attribute my survival to one word: focus. If I had been chattering on the phone, fumbling in my purse for a mint, twiddling radio dials, or even scratching my nose, I would have died. But I was tired that night and aware of my unfamiliarity with the Oakland hills, so I had two hands on the wheel with my eyes on radar-lock on the road, my phone muted in my purse.

This is a bit of a preamble to say that from time to time I have major thoughts about interesting big topics, such as the future of OCLC, inter-ILS sharing systems such as Navigator and Fulfillment, the movement to centralized mass storage for legacy print materials, and of course, and most importantly, beer and homebrewing. I want to share these thoughts but am pulled under by the rip tide (however warm and inviting the water)  of the responsibilities of being a university librarian.

Then I am sometimes asked to write about new technologies, and a friend asked me if I would be writing about my iPad. Our head of campus IT gave iPads to me and to our sysadmin. (Yes, she is a marvelous head of campus IT.)

I have many thoughts about the iPad, but for now, with my focus on the pink mattresses in my life, my observation is that the iPad is a marvelous consumption device. It is a little awkward as a tool for engagement (tap… tap… tap…) and even more limited as a tool of creation, but let’s not hold that against it, because the book has the same limitations. The model I have is wifi, which has its own implications.The iPad easily fits in my purse, which also has  implications.

So far I use the iPad for these things. I catch up on email whenever I’m wifi-accessible (an easier screen than the iPhone, and far less clunky than maneuvering a laptop). Not good for long responses, but otherwise fine. I play Solitaire, which is really fun on a device this size–I admit to having become a bit of a junky. I browse social networks while I’m watching TV at home. I have purchased one book, Death of the Adversary, which is a great reading experience through the Kindle app.

Other uses crop up during my life workflow. Last Sunday I looked up my favorite Greek Salad recipe in the Epicurious app, then propped the iPad on the kitchen table (my case has a stand) and used it as my cookbook. Usually what I do with Epicurious is print out the recipe, but the iPad has such a large screen that this was unnecessary. Woodsman spare that tree!

Because the iPad fits in my purse, I always have it with me. This has turned out to mean, I can always read a book or play Solitaire. Without 3G, the iPad isn’t exactly a mobile device; outside the home, barring those rare moments when I am on a free public network (such as at Starbucks),  if I need a map or current information, I pull out my iPhone. Which brings up the over-obvious point that ubiquitous computing is really about ubiquitous connectivity. Nothing new for anyone who has grown up in the networked environment, but a continuous readjustment for those of us who still tend to think of computing as personal (versus cloud or web-scale) hardware.

Perhaps the most important role of the iPad in my university position is to generate excitement about emerging technologies. When I bring it out (in a cherry-red case I bought for $10 on Amazon no less) I get comments and attention. Everyone has questions and everyone is interested. I was asked earlier this week if it was my “Etch-a-Sketch” (the red case certainly makes it look that way) to which I downloaded a free app and scribbled on the screen. There’s interest and engagement on a level that ye olde laptop doesn’t generate. Most computing hardware looks like work; the iPad looks like fun.

With or without 3G, I believe the iPad is the Kindle-killer, but I also believe Amazon doesn’t care. The Kindle is a device that enables the cultural transition to the eBook. The money can’t possibly be in a heavily-discounted piece of equipment with free 3G for “life” (which in Internet years is probably less than a decade). The money has to be in being a major player in the big shift from print to digital–not too early (anyone remember Rocketbook?) and not too late.

Posted on this day, other years: