I can only grapple with a few Big Questions in my mind at any one time. That’s why I pushed aside the minor ones (What is my Purpose in life? What is Happiness? Is there a Higher Purpose that guides us?) in order to focus on the biggie: should I buy an iPad? After all, why purchase what is essentially an expensive e-reader when the current ink & paper technology has stood the test of time? As much as I love Apple gadgetry, the only real advantage of the iPad is the ability to read books and better view web pages. I had no doubt it would be an excellent web reader, but I had reservations about whether I’d ever prefer it to actual books.
I couldn’t get my mom’s voice out of my head: “Why pay $500 for something that does the same thing as an $8 paperback?” Unfortunately, she said this as I was teaching her to use the Kindle I’d gotten her for Christmas. Of course, the features Apple touts as selling points already exist. Bookmarking feature? I use one of the million subscription cards that fall out of my Rolling Stone magazine. Text-to-speech? It’s called my voice, which sounds a lot less creepy (I hope). iBookstore? It’s called a bookstore, and the one around the corner is owned by a nice lady who used to give me hot chocolate. Highlighting feature? I use my… highlighter.
Still, I’m a techie geek that can’t help but hope that the latest doohickey will win me over. I decided to kick the tires by reading Stephen King’s Under The Dome on the iPad. At over a thousand pages, I figured I’d have more than enough time to determine its worth.
The main drawback involves eggs. And tomato sauce. And pizza. Everything I tend to spill on the papers that collect on my desk, coffee-stained casualties of fast-food cuisine. The tenor and quality of my swearing kicked up a notch when wiping a frappachino off the unblemished glass of the iPad. I found myself frantically looking for an assortment of protective covers and foam bumpers to shroud my wee electronic bundle of joy before protective services showed up. I actually nixed a trip to the beach because I was afraid the sand might scratch the surface.
The strain on my eyes was a concern until I discovered the light adjustment; I was easily able to adjust to indoor or outdoor settings, although the light of the sun made reading all but impossible. Still, to those accustomed to sitting in front of a computer screen for three or four hours a day (a number that grows exponentially in this country), the impact on the eye is negligible. And, in a nod to Mr. King, I spent about nine hours a day over the weekend reading his book.
When it comes to taste, the two mediums end up in a draw: while my cocker spaniels have always displayed a healthy appetite for chewing on paperbacks left near floor level, they also love the flavor of the USB cable that connects the iPad to my computer.
The advantages of the iPad really surprised me. It’s nice to read with one hand, for one; prying the pages apart on a hefty paperback might have given me Popeye forearm strength, but it rarely made for pleasant reading. It’s relatively light even with its shiny black rubber casing, and the ability to adjust the text size is a godsend to these 43-year old eyes.
However, I really loved the “pretzel factor” of the iPad. I am a wiggler; I can’t stay in any one position for more than a few minutes before I have to shift. I end up looking like a literary contortionist: feet resting on the seat of a chair while I lie on the ground next to my dog, the book held above my head as if strung from the ceiling. The iPad lets me lock the orientation and lean it against my pillow at any angle, propping it up in any number of positions as I thrash around. For the avid reader, you know how big this is. Never a wrinkled page creeping closed, no arm getting tired… heaven.
So here I am, addicted again. All things being equal, I actually prefer the iPad to traditional paper books. Now if Steve Jobs would just get to work on another “innovation” that already exists: the iLibrary, where I can read books from my tax-supported institutions… because I spent all my money on this stupid iPad!!