Reinventing the Newsroom

The IPad, Made Simpler

Posted in Cultural Change, IPad by reinventingthenewsroom on June 17, 2010

On Tuesday Paid Content’s Staci D. Kramer grabbed the legendary design guru and visual journalist Mario Garcia for a quick interview at the Poynter Institute, where he was the keynote speaker at Poynter’s Power of the Tablet conference. (Disclosure: I spent my teenage years as a Poynter brat, and so have been lucky enough to know Mario since I was a kid.) It’s a good interview, which you can watch here as part of Kramer’s report.

In it, Garcia says something I thought goes to the heart of the appeal of the iPad and whatever tablet computers successfully emulate it: The iPad, he tells Kramer, “allows you to feel disconnected when you are connected.”

Yes, I thought, that’s it exactly.

The question of whether the iPad is a vehicle for production or consumption is an interesting one, but misses the point. Similarly, thinking of the iPad as a “lean-back” device instead of a “lean-forward” one is helpful, but only one aspect of what it does.

Many of us feel ambivalent about how technology has remade our lives. On the one hand, we love being connected in a way that feels active, as opposed to taking in information from a TV or a print newspaper. Take away Gmail and Facebook and Twitter and our RSS feeds and our browser of choice and we feel a gnawing insecurity: We’re out of the loop, and things are happening out there that we don’t know about. On the other hand, we remember when things weren’t like this and we never felt that insecurity when not always connected, and wonder if the bargain was worth it. Now and then, if we manage to get past that twitch of needing connection, we find ourselves relaxing and wandering in our own minds in a way we haven’t for a while — and may think, Gee, I should do this more often. I refuse to get Wi-Fi on planes because I like the experience of losing myself in a book for a few hours or simply staring out the window and seeing where my thoughts go. The shame is that I’ve trained myself to think I can only do that on an airplane.

The tablet has the potential to split the difference: It’s a device that allows connection, but encourages contemplation. It gets us out of our busy, working/searching desktop or smartphone postures, returning us to the feeling of curling up with a book. It lets us check email or do some quick surfing, but also makes it easier to stop. It’s not a surprise that early iPad news apps are uncomfortably positioned somewhere between print and online experiences — so too is the iPad. Our job as editors and designers and thinkers is to get rid of the “uncomfortably” part — in other words, to create something that lets you feel disconnected when you’re connected.

Yes, that’s it exactly. Thanks Mario!


7 Responses

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  1. andreaitis said, on June 17, 2010 at 7:01 am

    very interesting to think about, both the concept of feeling disconnected when you are connected and people’s desire to find that state of digital being (whether it’s a conscious or unconscious pursuit).

    it’s really the inverse of a print experience. reading a newspaper, magazine or book allows you to feel connected when you’re disconnected.

    both are about absorption, being present in the moment, in the action or activity. another way to think about real-time experience, perhaps.

  2. Andrew Gordon said, on June 17, 2010 at 8:55 am

    I’m not sure I see the connection; how exactly is the iPad making users feel disconnected while being connected? Is it the fact that multi-tasking on an iPad is difficult (can’t easily tab between a browser and Microsoft Word, say, as you can on a regular computer)?

    Also, how is the iPad more disconnected while connected than an iPhone, and why is it easier to stop your connectedness on an iPad than on smartphones?

    It’s not that I don’t understand the desirable nature of being disconnected while connected, it’s just that I don’t fully understand how the iPad accomplishes this feat.

    • reinventingthenewsroom said, on June 17, 2010 at 9:30 am

      Hi Andrea, I really like the idea that it’s the inverse of a print experience. That’s intriguing.

      Andrew, for me it gets back to the “lean-back” posture of sitting with the iPad, as opposed to the work experience of an office chair in front of a laptop/desktop. You’re relaxed and disconnected from work mode, yet still connected. I’ve definitely felt that with the iPad, much more so than I would have imagined.

      With a smartphone you can definitely disconnect easily (insert obligatory AT&T joke here), but while I love my iPhone, the fact that you can use it to surf/answer email/read/watch something obscures the fact that none of those things is particularly pleasurable to do with a tiny screen/touchpad. With an iPad it’s a lot easier to flow between connected and disconnected.

      We’re getting into kind of squishy, highly individual experiences here — your mileage may vary of course!

      • jSarek said, on June 17, 2010 at 4:05 pm

        Another squishy and highly individual experience, one that that led someone to get rid of their iPad:

        The guy found the insidiousness of the “lean-back” qualities of the device, allowing him to fill the “empty” time in his day, to ultimately be detrimental to creativity.

  3. […] »  Former WSJ reporter Jason Fry expands on Dr. Mario Garcia’s notion that the iPad “allows you to feel disconnected while you are connected.” [Reinventing the Newsroom] […]

  4. SnoopDoug said, on June 18, 2010 at 9:28 am

    What a load of rot double-speak. Not a single iPad user wants to feel “disconnected”. That is the antithesis of the device. In fact, I’d bet that if you asked iPad users whether they want to feel disconnected, they would say “Hell no” 90% of the time.

    So what “experience” are you touting by being “disconnected”? No interruptions? You want to really feel “disconnected”, turn it off. Now that’s what I’m talking about.

    • reinventingthenewsroom said, on June 24, 2010 at 3:07 pm

      You’re missing what Mario was getting at: The iPad lets you feel connected without having your whole attention focused on a laptop or the small screen of a smartphone. Disconnected from the usual posture/habits of computing, searching, etc.

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