I Want You, Useless iPad

Josh Semans via Flickr/CC BY 2.0

I want an iPad. I have kind of sort of wanted one since Steve Jobs first foisted the rectangular non-laptop, non-smartphone 'tablet' straight through the walls of that cavernous exhibition room, packed with giddy execs and tech writers, and into the internet ether, its coming heralded by even giddier bloggers and tweeters and status updaters.

Steve Jobs looked like a Hollywood actor playing the role of a hammy God in a B-movie. The 'tablet' he waved above his head was a runestone from the future, a religious artifact unearthed from a forthcoming society made benevolent by Bill and Ted and their Wyld Stallyns.

Millions of people bought it, and then bought the new one that was the same but made the old one suck. I see it on coffee shop counters, loaded up with e-books, on airplanes. Mostly, I see people playing Angry Birds.

And now there is another new one, and I kind of sort of want one again. I really kind of do.

That is the genius of Apple.

The iPad is the epitome of the created want. It is a consumer product that fulfills no function that a laptop or smartphone cannot; and everyone who wants to buy an iPad already has one of those things. It is something that we never knew we wanted before, nor ever needed. Everyone knows this. Steve Jobs knew this more than any of us will ever know this.

But the iPad is about the "experience"! It's for video and apps and for being part of the trendsetting, trailblazing crowd that is actively participating in how we will consume the internet "next". This is no mistake. Obvs. This is the message Apple has diligently worked to craft, with smart design, prohibitive pricing, and aggressive branding. This is the world that loyal Apple customers live in:

The future is here, it just isn't evenly distributed yet. I wonder if William Gibson reads cyberpunk thrillers on an iPad e-reader.

Apple is powerful, the call of the crowd is powerful, and the desire to be elite, to be taste-making—is powerful. And that is why I want one.

But let's not kid ourselves.

The iPad is a 3D TV. It is a banana slicer. It is the entire stock of the Sharper Image condensed into a single product. It is pointless. It exists exclusively for he or she who retains enough disposable income to justify the need to "experience" the internet in a marginally different way. It remains a blatant repackaging of widely available technologies and functionalities, and that becomes clearer with every new model that is released, every new model that does little new besides make the older one less sexy and beam obscene profits up to the Apple mothership.

I would have bought one by now if I ever could have convinced myself otherwise. Earlier this year, I almost did. My girlfriend's brother, who works at Apple, mentioned something about a 20% discount.

But I thought about it for a moment longer. I lifted up my laptop. It was not very heavy. And I do not need to play Angry Birds on a "tablet". I do not need to buy more useless consumer electronic products. But I very much want to.

Tags: Apple Inc | Conspicuous Consumption | Consumerism | United States