Everywhere, I see them: Busy workers, both in the office and around at the various Wi-Fi connected places that dot Cambridge, tapping away in front of their laptops, shooting out e-mails or scheduling meetings or just checking out a fun thing to go that night.
Chances are good, however, that although they’re typing in front of their laptops, they’re not tapping on their laptops. Instead, it’s become common to see people flipping through e-mails or tapping notes on their cell phones (even fully digital ones!) when there’s a perfectly good computer right by.
Pecking away and cramping your fingers voluntarily makes little sense until you go back to that laptop and how dangerous it’s become: Blinking IMs, Tsk’ing alarms, flashing warnings are all there, lurking to sidetrack you. Even modern browsers contribute to stimulus overload: You somehow go from full throttle to idle in 15 tabs, all filled with so much data that demands to be read you just want to shut them all down and be done with it.
The cell phone, particularly the iPhone but any modern phone will do, is a haven: One thing at a time, with maybe a gentle nudge here to tell you a new song is coming or a friend is calling. It’s comprehensible. It’s simple.
I fear that haven may have a countdown, however.
Tomorrow, in all likelihood, Apple will release its new tablet PC, running a modified version of the iPhone’s OS, as well as the 4th major release of this OS, which will probably include the ability to run background applications, a first for the line of devices and a major sticking point for competitors like the Droid. “True” multi-tasking is inevitable, and knowing Apple it will probably be wonderfully executed but, perhaps imperceptibly, some joyful simplicity will be lost.
Already, the New York Times is reportedly in production of a e-newspaper for the tablet that will not only beautifully format the Grey Lady’s text, but embed videos as well. More, more, more. It’s gotten to the point that there are services that take out all the extra cruft, the metadata and design and multimedia, to return readers to a simpler relationship with text.
It is, of course, progress. Even necessary, noble progress. The gleeful comic that compared typical corporate applications to Apple and Google designs was rightfully chided as simplistic: There’s a reason for complexity, because we live in a complex world, one that requires more than one input field, one that requires a gradient of choices, and one that demands multiple applications running at the same time, a juggling array of responsibilities and duties.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t yearn for simpler times.