Particle Debris (wk. ending 7/9) Doing Something Valuable

| Particle Debris

I’ve watched a lot of science fiction in my life. To say that I am a SciFi nut-case is putting it mildly. I’m always interested in the technology, how it works, and the impact of technology on human beings. Also, there are often pretty blonde scientists … but I digress.

In many SciFi TV shows and movies, we’ve seen scientists doing important things, like saving the planet — or indeed saving the entire universe. To achieve that, they have a boatload of gadgets to help them. But even between the action scenes, scientists are in their home or laboratory, also playing with gadgets.

Kirk & ipad

The original iPad: Credit Paramount and

The underlying theme as I’ve perceived it is that these actors, portraying scientists and space explorers, were typically doing something worthwhile with their tablets. Perhaps you’d see Captain Kirk reading a novel, but by and large, these devices were put to good use for the mission. Work was done, results were achieved.

When I think of the iPad today, I see something quite different. I may be wrong, and I’ll be asking for counter examples, but in far too many cases the iPad seems to be simply an Apple cash register. It’s a device designed to occupy our time and empty our wallets.

Now don’t take this wrong. There are 250,000 apps for the iPad, and many of them are educational or instructive in some way. I just reviewed a good one. However, by and large, many simply expect the iPad to entertain them with either videos or games.

Many professional people have found that the iPad is perfect for vacations or business travel. It keeps them in touch via Safari and e-mail. With iWork, they can compose and create and present. So I suspect that many readers will contact me to explain how essential the iPad is to their profession. The same goes for students.

Immersed as I am in the culture of the iPad, especially as presented by Apple and marketers, however, I am concerned that far too many people, who could be pressing the iPad into serious, productive use, are simply wasting their time and money on entertainment. For them, it’s a spectacular gadget that gives them a sense of one-upmanship, but doesn’t do anything to actually make the planet a better place. And heaven knows, we need that right now.

Tell Me Your iPad Story

I know I’m wrong in my perceptions about this, and I hope I get a boatload of e-mail from writers, scientists, professors, astronauts, and government people with stories about how the iPad has enabled them to conduct some serious business that wasn’t practical before. Send me your stories, and I’ll pass them on here.

A brain plus an iPad is a terrible thing to waste.

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Mike Weasner

I think the PADD from Star Trek: The Next Generation is closer to the iPad, in both size and capabilities.  All that is needed is the right software on the iPad, and, oh year, a ubiquitous network connection (and a really fast one, at that).  Once we have that software and network, we’ll have a ST:TNG PADD.  It will also probably be very close to John Sculley’s “Knowledge Navigator” concept.


Hmmmm.  Not sure why you are making the assumption that entertainment should not qualify as a “good use” of the iPad?  Doesn’t fun, happiness and enjoyment make the world a better place?

I actually don’t own an iPad, just an iPhone.  But after a mere week with my first one, I knew I would never want to be without it again.  It just made so many things simpler, more immediate, and yes, more fun, and it honestly gave me a great feeling of “being connected” with… well… everything - anywhere I went.

Call it a Tricorder, call it a PADD, whatever - it IS Star Trek in my pocket.  And it exists…TODAY!

So, No.  An iPad will never allow Joe-the-plumber to save the universe. (although that might make a fun movie…)

But if President Obama is using one to conduct his daily business - the Country’s business - then Yes, that’s important work happening on an iPad.  (Even if he does let his daughters play FarmVille on it when he leaves the Oval Office.)


John, as much as I would like to offer counter examples to time-wasting use of iOS, Android, and similar devices, what I’ve seen leads me to share your concerns.  However, even though the marketers and content companies predominantly offer apps and web apps for play and selling stuff and though it seems that many people, especially young people, use their devices primarily for idle uses or wasteful consumption, I take hope in that iPads and smartphones offer as much opportunity for useful and even great work as for idleness.  We simply have to exploit that opportunity. 

And I believe that we will.  I believe that, as we become more accustomed to our iPads, iPhones, Android phones, etc., we will achieve a better balance of useful work, edifying uses, and play.  After all, the first thing that you do with a sexy new device is play with it.  And of course, the marketer view the introduction of new toys, especially ones that can be a platform for advertising, as an opportunity to empty of pockets.  But the great work will come.  Of course, parents and teachers can help that day come sooner for their children and students by requiring them to be just as excellent after the iPad as they should have been required to be before the iPad.


Got my iPad for 2 business reasons: to test websites I build so that they display and work correctly on an iPad (and making that fact a plus for my clients) and to use it as a portfolio when I meet with clients. So much handier for showing pictures and video than a laptop computer.

Added benefit was realizing that the iPad quickly became an invaluable tool for the book I am writing, when doing research and when writing.

The fact that the iPad is also handy on location for video/film shoots for note taking, and even as a tele prompter, is another bonus.

That’s not to say I don’t play games on it in my spare time. That just wasn’t the reason to buy it.

John M.

I recently had occasion to travel for business and I left the laptop at home, opting for only the iPad. It was an amazing experience because using TeamViewer I was able to connect to my iMac at home using a MiFi and conduct all the business just as if I were sitting at my desk at home. Truly liberating.

The meeting I was attending was largely populated by normal Windows users, but there were a sizable number of iPad owners. I expect this number to increase in the future.


There are some doctors’ offices that are using them for entering or viewing patient data.  Of course, they’re using them as thin-clients to talk to a server via RDP…

That said, I think part of the reason for the general malaise is that what would make these devices more useful would be access to sensors that will tell you more things.  However, you can’t just use your iPhone or iPad to talk to any device—the device must have Apple’s “Made for iPhone/iPad” sticker.  So a third-party developer with a great idea on how to use, say, a telescope with their iPad must convince the hardware maker to become an iPhone/iPad developer and certify that their bluetooth telescope controller will work with the iPad before you can actually talk to it to move the telescope around.

Thus, you are limited to the sensors in the device.  And there’s only so much you can do with an accelerometer…

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

I kinda get what you’re saying John. Ted tweeted this tonight.

It’s like the iPad is a little money sucker intended to be handed to 7 year olds who have no concept of money. Great business model if you can make it work.

Oh, this is one of those cases where Flash games, distributed on many private sites and not backed by a single account and credit card would be much more secure in practice than a centralized curated garden. Unarguably grin.


I would suspect that many of these people who use the iPad merely for consumption are highly productive in other segments of their lives.  I’d let them re(-)create with the iPad in whatever manner they wish—they’ve likely earned it.

I am struck by the number of people who have been alienated from tech for going on decades now.  They’ve been frozen out of the worlds of the internet, and from other benefits of computers, but now for the first time have found a way into it via the iPad (Hey Mom!)  Even if all they ever do is consumption with it—ever—I think that’s a fine thing.

I am also struck by the increasing reports from enterprise and other businesses, from creatives and regular people, who are exploring what they can do with this thing (the App Store is not to be under-rated in its role here).  There’s a sense of a wild exploration going on by developers and consumers alike—they’re playing with it just to see what they can do.

And I don’t know that beautiful, well-designed objects necessarily need to justify themselves based on function (getting metaphysical here).  It would be nice if they could do that, but if it’s beautiful, we often don’t bother with any other justifications after that.  Ugly things however need to justify themselves by some other measure (functionality, for example), or else we wonder why such a thing isn’t torn down or immediately recycled.  That’s unfair, but that’s the way it is, and we typically don’t make apologies for it.

We’ve seen similar arguments before regarding TV, too (although I wouldn’t put the iPad in the same class as TV, necessarily).  Depending on who you are, the device can merely be for mindless consumption, or learning, or creating, or some blend of all those.

JM: I’d suggest revisiting this article in 3 years time and let’s see what has transpired.


Think of the inventions that came in the first decade of the 20th century. The car, the airplane, the liquid fuelled rocket. They all started out as a gadget, a toy. Then as time passed people became more used to them, trusted them to be reliable enough to hang their life and their business on. The Wright Flyer became air liners and fire bombers. The toy rocket became the Saturn V. We’re just at the very thin edge of a new wave of development. Yes it’s a toy now. Yes it’s only being used to sell now. Watch as the momentum builds.


I think you are correct if you remove “iPad” and insert “technology”. I think that the majority of the populace uses technology as either entertainment or time-saver so they can get back to their entertainment. Be it transportation technology (look at my Hummer / let’s fly to Vegas), to communications technology (inane texting / gabbing with bff), to printing (SI swimsuit edition); technology is often used for unproductive purposes.

It is only a smaller percentage that utilizes technology for productive ends. But I don’t necessarily think that is a problem inherent in the system, I think it is an issue with people. Unfortunately, I don’t count myself as one who is necessarily productive; except in my job where I use it to generate income for my place of employment and provide for my family.

All that being said, I also think that being productive is in the eye of the beholder. For example, my wife is inherently social. For her to use technology to connect with those she loves falls into being productive. Not so much for me, but who’s to say which is right.

my 2 cents.

... and loving my iPad.  smile

Ref Librarian

I kind of object to the word “productive” and would want to use “integrated” instead. I use my iPhone to identify birds that come to the bird feeder, tell me how far I’ve walked when exercising, to divvy up the bill at lunch with friends, listen to a Stanford University course, check on my bank account and deposit checks, listen to music in the car, read a book at the dentist, check personal email and facebook at work, keep tabs on the stock market, and follow the newspapers, the publishing and library fields on twitter. I also use it to play games or view a video or keep up with a few forums I belong to once in a while. When I get my iPad, I expect it too will be integrated into both my work and leisure time.

Although some might like to think that those pads in Star Trek were only for serious business I bet they were integrated into their lives and sometimes they played games and watched movies on them too.

Tik Tok

Just got back from a business weekend.  I used my iPad, connected to a projector, to show a slideshow about the business that I’d earlier created at home.  And, with some difficulty due to the slow internet connection available, employed MobileMe’s iDisk to review various documents during meetings.  Until I get a camera connector, which remain unavailable, I couldn’t download photos of a social event at the weekend to show others at the time—which would have been “entertaining”, but fun nevertheless.  During off-time, I researched the particular necessities for a hike to be taken later this month with my son.  And read the various news outlets from their apps. 
This is not to say the iPad isn’t fun and entertaining, too, but that we are still learning all about how to make it a valuable alternative to a laptop.

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