Much ado has been made over the isolationism of technology. I’ve read probably four articles in the last month about how technology destroys social interaction and small talk. The number one piece of tech getting the abuse is Apple’s iPad.
I’ve had my own 3G iPad for a little over two months now and I get why it gets the bad rep it gets. If you’re bored or tired of talking you can simply slip out your iPad and play a game or check email. Our great-grandfather and mothers would probably take it as the height of rudeness (after they got over how shiny it was).
And yet, you don’t hear a lot of folks talking about the ways it brings people together. My iPad travels with me everywhere, I take it out everywhere and I use it a lot. There’s three or four pages of apps that you have to flip through (in landscape mode). So I have quite a bit to show off. Inevitably, when I’m out, a total stranger will stop, take a sharp intake of breath and go, “is that an iPad?”
This simple question has been the basis for many a small talk conversation with a waitress, coffee shop customer, or small child. Once I even had a woman nearly run up to the table I was sitting at in Starbucks and bounce with glee, “isn’t this thing wonderful? My husband and I love ours!” Another time, it was a waitress at a restaurant who sat down at my table to talk about how she could use the iPad for a small home business she wanted to start. This past fourth of July my parents and I were playing Scrabble on the iPad (pass and play) while we were waiting for the fireworks to go off. That’s when I noticed that the nearby group of kids had gathered around us.
“Whose winning?” One kid asked.
“My mom is.” I replied.
“Can you read books on that?” Another kid asked (see, kids still like books folks).
“Yep. I have six books on it right now.”
“Ohhhhhh.” The kids said collectively.
“Look, she has an iPad.” One of the boys told another boy who just wandered up to us.
“An iPod?” The boy asked, confused.
“No, an iPad.” The first boy responded. “It’s so cool.”
Later, as the evening went on, the kids would come up to me and ask who was winning the Scrabble game and peek over at the shining screen. We had several small chit-chatty conversations after that.
Social interactions? I’ve got them.
Or, consider my recent flight where I was playing Boggle. The stewardess (who seemed tired and cranky most of the flight) leaned over and said, “did you get stairs?” When I replied I hadn’t yet, she smiled and was so pleasant the rest of the time.
My favorite story about how social an iPad is comes from friends of our who have 5 kids, all under the age of 14. The four boys gathered around my iPad on their coffeetable and played Plants vs. Zombies for about four hours. Now, if you have’t played Plants vs. Zombies you may miss the beauty of this. Technically it’s a one player game. But the four boys worked together to collect the needed sun, plant the correct plants and watch for invading zombies. There were no squabbles or shoving or pushing (my iPad never was in danger) and it was so much fun to watch them having such a great time.
So yes, I could be a hermit with my technology. I see why folks worry about us isolating ourselves and burying ourselves into our Blackberry (I’ve seen that one way too many times), but I submit it’s not the tech — it’s the people using them.