When the iPad was launched, amid all the huzzahs and hoopla, there were a few murmurs of discontent from the creative community.
“Sure, it looks slick, but you can’t make anything with it.”
“If this isn’t ‘lean back’ media, I don’t know what is.”
‘Lean back’, of course, was a reference to Jakob Nielsen’s well-known distinction between television (‘lean back’ = passive consumption) and the Web (‘lean forward’ = active creation).
So criticisms of the iPad as a ‘lean back’ device were effectively suggesting that Apple was selling out – abandoning its traditional role as the creator of computers for creators, and pandering to the masses, by giving the couch potatoes the ultimate couch surfing device.
Now that the tablet wars are hotting up, the iPad is no longer the only game in tablet town, with the proliferation of different sizes and flavours of Kindle. (Here the line between ‘tablet’ and ‘e-reader’ gets blurred, but the essential form and function – a flat screen for consuming rather than producing media – is the same.)
There’s even a $35 ‘Made in India’ tablet – the Aakash – which is being developed to take tablet computing to people who could never contemplate buying an iPad:
The rich have access to the digital world, the poor and ordinary have been excluded. Aakash will end that digital divide.
Kapil Sibbal, Telecom and Education Minister, India
It looks as though these things are going to be as common as phones, as common as books.
Everywhere you look, people will be surfing, reading, watching, listening: email, websites, books, videos, music; in bed, on the sofa, on the train, on the loo, underwater and in outer space.
So the question posed for creators by the launch of the iPad is only going to get more pressing:
Are these just shiny new objects, distracting us from our real work of creating something meaningful? Or do they offer us something distinctive and valuable, that can help us realise our creative ambitions in new ways?
I’m going to suggest the latter, for two reasons – one of them about you as a creator, the other about your audience.
1. Consumption Is Part of Creation
Since I got a Kindle, I’ve been buying and reading a lot more books: poetry, novels, memoirs, biographies. Books about business, creativity, languages, cultures and social networks. Shakespeare, Milton, H.P. Lovecraft, R.L. Stevenson, David Bowie, Derek Sivers and Chris Brogan.
I’ve spent less time skimming ephemera from the web, and more time reading genuinely thoughtful, fascinating and stimulating writing.
I’ve also taken the time to read some PDF e-books that have been kicking around my ‘to read’ folder for a while. When I’m at the laptop, I’m busy writing, making things and interacting with other people via email and social networks. There’s always something to do, so there’s never time to sit and read a 50 page e-book at the desk.
But reading on the sofa, or a train or plane, is a completely different experience. I have time to slow down and read, not just skim. I’m not in a hurry. I can make notes on the device, and come back to them later. I’m learning a lot. Getting plenty of new ideas.
The iPad has a similar effect, even if you’re just surfing the web. Reading in your leisure time, when you have time to relax, reflect and absorb, is very different to skimming something at work, when you feel like you should really be doing something else.
Is all of this good for creativity? Of course. Because consumption is part of creation.
Garbage in, garbage out. You can’t produce amazing stuff, unless you’re consuming amazing stuff. And a ‘lean back’ tablet will help you do just that.
2. Your Potential Audience Is Growing Exponentially
So tablet computers are making it easier for us to consume digital media, in places more conducive to reading/watching/listening than a work desk. Which is great for creating – but the implications for publishing are even more exciting …
A few years ago, if you were self-publishing digital content – via a blog, newsletter, podcasts, YouTube videos etc – your audience was mainly restricted to geeks.
These days, when the internet has gone mainstream, you can reach a lot more ‘normal’ people (especially if you offer an email subscription as well as RSS). But you’re still reaching them at work, when their attention is divided.
Or maybe on their smart phone, on the commute. But when they get home, they are likely to ditch the small screen for the 30 inch plasma that dominates their living room.
But now there’s a new species in the domestic digital ecosystem. It’s small and unassuming – a mere furry rodent compared to big beasts like the home cinema, hi-fi stack or games console – but it represents a huge opportunity for creators.
Every time someone looks down from the TV and reaches for their iPad, they give you an opportunity.
Every time someone walks past the newsstand and downloads their morning read on the Kindle Fire, they give you an opportunity.
Every time someone browses through the Kindle store, looking for something new and different, they give you an opportunity.
Every time someone puts a low-cost tablet in the hands of a person on the other side of the planet, they give you an opportunity.
As the market for tablets explodes, so does your potential audience. The more people who are consuming digital media, the more people you can reach with your media.
So the game for creators is getting a whole lot bigger – in every sense.
Now, instead of competing for your audience’s attention with spreadsheets, email, and the minutes of last week’s meeting, you are competing with the TV, the DVD player, the PlayStation, the stereo, the bookshelf, the morning paper, and the magazine rack.
Instead of competing with other bloggers in your niche, with Twitter and Facebook, with Foursquare and Angry Birds, you are competing with CNN, the BBC, Mad Men, Kubrick, The King’s Speech, Grand Theft Auto, Beethoven, Lady Gaga, Steinbeck, Picasso, T.S. Eliot, the New York Times, and Wired.
Which raises the bar, does it not?
Because if you’re not as engaging, exciting, educational, entertaining or downright enthralling as the other things on that list, why should people choose to pay attention to you, instead of them?
Exciting and inspiring? For a real creator, I should think so.
What Do You Think?
If you own a tablet, do you think it has had a positive or negative effect on your creativity?
Are you excited by the potential of tablet computers to open up your work to new audiences?
What other creative opportunities can you see with the proliferation of tablets?
About the Author: Mark McGuinness is a Coach for Artists, Creatives and Entrepreneurs. For a free 26-week guide to success as a creative professional, sign up for Mark’s course The Creative Pathfinder. And for bite-sized inspiration, add Mark on Google+.