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Ear to the Ground

The Working Man’s Tablet

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Posted on Aug 14, 2012
Truthdig/Peter Z. Scheer

Tablets are quickly taking over the computer market despite being utterly useless to working people. Apple has reportedly sold the equivalent of an iPad to one of every nine Americans.

“Your next computer is going to be a MacBook Air 11 inch,” I told my friend, a brilliant lawyer who nonetheless has not figured out how to plug in his Apple TV. “It’s powerful, portable and, for an Apple product, reasonably priced.”

“But what do I do with my iPad?” he asked.

You mean that thing you use to check Facebook while you watch TV? What do you do with your iPad?

You don’t do anything. You absorb little bits of the giant noisy blah-verse. That’s all. Tablets are popular because they are basically useless and they ask little of our minds in return. Although Apple advertisements depict people video editing on their iPads, I doubt many installs of iMovie get used after the first week or so. That’s because tablets are just time pits where we warehouse our attention between distractions. We don’t use them to make things. They exist so we have something else to stare at when “Jeopardy” goes to commercial. After all, we are Americans and we have a right to never be bored.

Google’s Nexus 7 is no different, but at least it’s cheap. At $200, even those of us on a modest budget can now watch Netflix on the toilet. And unlike other tablets in this price range, the Nexus 7 is good.

I bought one the moment it was announced and have been using Google’s iPad alternative for several weeks now. People say it’s unfair to compare the device to Apple’s best-selling computer because it’s so different. The Nexus is half the size and has nowhere near as pretty a screen. But that’s what an alternative is—something different.

Google claims you’ll enjoy holding its tablet, reading books on it and playing games, because the size is better for all of those things. Of course that means watching movies is a diminished experience.

How about writing? Or creating a podcast? How about building a website or putting together a serious photo portfolio?

People don’t want computers that do anything anymore because people don’t want to do anything anymore.

The worker drones will always have their spreadsheet generators, but when they come home they want something deliberately too simple to run Excel.

And that means their kids won’t have access to the computing software and hardware necessary to create things beyond sophisticated finger paintings. And the nation will slowly get dumber and collapse in on itself. Meanwhile the country that builds nearly all of these devices, China, is pumping out spaceships and people smart enough to build them. Oh well. We can import those people, and use their math skills to put a rover on Mars as long as Beijing keeps buying enough of our debt to finance the project.

Between us, I didn’t see that tangent coming either. My attention span has been drained by checking Twitter on my mostly useless but cute Nexus 7 tablet, which cost me $200.

What were we talking about?

On Twitter: @peesch.

(Make sure to check out the comments. We’re getting a tremendous response from people with a different point of view. Some very interesting personal experiences down there. And at least one person who thinks I’m an idiot.)

—Posted by Peter Z. Scheer.

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