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The iPad and True Social Computing

Like more than 3 million others, I recently bought an iPad. I have given myself a lot of reasons to do so from making life easier for my shoulders (no more packing my laptop and all its cords with me), an interest in changing the way I work (slowing down), and because it is the latest innovation that could be used for health and research purposes.

And they’re pretty neat.

But behind all of the bells and whistles and justifications for using the iPad, the thing that sold me on it more than anything was that it may be the first social computer.

Watch how people interact with the iPad and you’ll see something that goes beyond a slimmer touch-screen computer and you see a social engagement technology. People gather around them and its shape and size allows it to be passed back and forth, resized, and shifted around in a manner that allows people to truly interact with it socially. And by socially, I mean as people, together, in one place. Place itself is also different, not just because it provides an attractor for physical interaction, but because its web platform allows that physical interaction to connect to the online social world at the same time.

Last night this was demonstrated as I went to dinner with some friends. I brought my iPad with me as a couple of my dinner mates wanted to see one in action. What transpired was an interactive, engaged and often hilarious series of interactions between us, the iPad and videos, text and pictures we pulled from the web. Unlike a laptop, which creates a physical barrier between people and their space (the screen goes up to block your view, the keyboard goes down to cover your table), the iPad can be manipulated in a way that it becomes far less intrusive.

The computer is sharable and something that can be passed around, which also means that the person who brings the computer isn’t tied to it and can let others work with it.

The prospects for using this in both personal and professional life are tremendous. Imagine how much more likely we would be to engage in genuine sharing of an article, or book (e-book I suppose) with another in the moment if we had tools that reduced the physical barriers that make computing so isolating? Imagine creating opportunities for newcomers to a country or a social circle to use these sharable tools as a method of transcending barriers to social engagement or information. Consider it.

What would you do if you could draw people in and communicate outward with a technology that allowed you to do 90% of what your laptop does, but is immensely more portable and sharable?

There are few technologies that deserve the title “game changer” but I think the iPad is one of them.

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