Photo via Veronica Belmont via Flickr CC
There are few things out there that do a better job than the iPad at highlighting just what's wrong with us when it comes to our gadget mentality. We love our gadgets, and they hold a lot of potential for dematerializing our lives, which means a smaller collective carbon footprint and hope for a sustainable future. But that potential only goes as far as we will take it, and from the looks of things, we aren't wanting to dematerialize and, what's worse, we aren't even valuing the stuff that we put up on a pedestal as revolutionary.
The iPad underscores all this with Apple reporting over 1 million sales of the first device, the launch of the 3G version which is exactly the same save for 3G connectivity and a higher price tag, and news of people doing everything from microwaving to blending to beating the device with a baseball bat.
Lots and Lots and Lots of Gadgets Sold...
This week Apple announced that they've hit the 1 million mark for iPad sales. The 3G version was also released, which sold 300,000 units during the first weekend. The 3G device, however, is exactly the same except for the little bit of extra hardware and software allowing it to have internet connectivity wherever you are - so why make two versions at all? Why not just make the 3G version and call it a day? It all adds up to simply selling more stuff. And let's take just a moment to ponder the number of devices sold so far. It's so easy to blow off numbers like this since we hear them every day and when it comes to gadgets, a million is just a million. But pause for a moment and contemplate one million iPad devices sitting in a heap. Then add about 30% to that pile for the 3G versions sold in just one weekend. That's a lot of gadgets.
...But Gadgets Can't Save Us
As Saul Griffith stated on a panel at Green:Net last week, we have zero hope for technology saving us from ourselves if we don't change who we are in the first place, i.e getting away from a consumer culture dependent on and rabid about our stuff. If technology will help us, it's because it will shift us away from a materialistic society and assist us in accomplishing our tasks and goals without the need for products.
The iPad holds this potential. As we've discussed before, it could be used as a TV, a book, a computer, a photo album, a gaming device... the list goes on of things it can replace. But the problem is that we don't seem to want to replace our consumption of those other things with this one thing - we're just adding the iPad onto the pile.
We Don't Value Objects or Their Capabilities to Reduce Our Footprint
It takes a massive amount of resources to create the object, and a massive amount of energy to recycle it - or to process out the toxins that leech into the soils and water ways after it is tossed in a landfill. Yet, the release of the iPad reveals how little we value the technology we think is oh so great. On day one, some teens took a bat to a brand new iPad. Why? Shock value - no one else had and they wanted to be the first to destroy an expensive and much discussed device. Then someone had to see what happens when you pop it in a blender. And of course there's the microwave. To break it purposefully when it's brand new is just flat out dumb.
The iPad is thus far a novelty device and not a game-changer for our consumption habits. We have yet to see if it pans out as a replacement for anything from a magazine to a netbook. As Dean Bubley of Disruptive Technology writes, "I can see a market for iPad-type devices of a similar scale to (say) personal navigation devices - maybe a worldwide target audience of perhaps 50m people. There are some fascinating niches - perhaps education, or gaming, or a few video applications. But I cannot see them replacing PCs (or Macs or netbooks), nor making a meaningful dent in the consumption of newspapers opr magazines. And outside a few metropolitan hotspots, I can't seem them heavily impacting operators' revenues or their networks either." Nevertheless, it's selling like hotcakes and so far, we aren't hearing that people are purchasing it instead of anything else like a book, a television, or a laptop.
It's Not About the iPad, It's About Us
Ultimately, this isn't about the iPad at all. If we want technology to save us from ourselves, we have to start valuing it as not just one more thing that does something cool, but as a way to get away from stuff altogether. If we focus on having the latest new thing for the sheer sake of having the latest new thing, and not because of the many tasks it will allow us to accomplish and the things it will allow us not to purchase, then we miss the point entirely, and we'll continue to be completely effed.