Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Immersed in myPad

My daughter is a persistent advocate of whatever cause strikes her fancy. Usually the Cause involves shopping or going to gatherings with friends. But, for my birthday this year she persisted with Jennifer to get me an iPad2. It was a total surprise.

So, for the past several weeks I have been obsessed with my new toy. Life before my iPad, which I have somewhat affectionately dubbed “myPad”, was a comparative mobile technology wasteland. I did not possess an iPhone or an Android or any other fancy mobile device. My cell phone is about ten years old and works fine. It doesn’t text and I don’t even know how to send a text message. I am ancient and antiquated in this regard. As I mentioned previously, I don’t even have a Facebook account. I never had a MySpace account. Maybe I’ll catch the next thing…there’s always a “next” isn’t there?

Suddenly, I have been thrust into a wider technological realm with myPad. As is the way with technology – such as when I first bought my PS3 and HDTV – it can more or less wrap its fingers around your attention span and hold you as a prisoner of sorts. With myPad this is especially true. I spend at least a couple hours a day tinkering with the thing ever since I got it.

The iPad cultural sphere is vaster, of course, than the one for the PS3/HDTV. The later items quickly became mere tools of entertainment, fairly easily explored, evaluated and becoming routine, even mundane and unused. Taken for granted. That will eventually happen with myPad (I think). But, it hasn’t happened so far.

My spare time has become a refuge for venturing out into the magical world of “Apps,” discovering the effervescence of portability, the ability to surf the internet more efficiently and from anywhere, no longer chained to a PC or even a clunky laptop. I can stream music, read news, check the weather, and write emails from my front porch or even my bench in the woods as if I had nothing more than a clipboard in my lap as a sip my gin and tonic.

The iPad operating system and interface (like the iPhone OS I assume) is very intuitive and easy to use. You point, flick, slide, widen or narrow your fingers to make the magic happen on the screen. Placing one icon on top of another automatically creates a new “folder” containing both icons and any others you add later. There’s a handy little “shelf” that remains stationary at the bottom of the screen. You use it to station your “primary” icons and folders while everything else can be spread out as you choose over several screens that move sequentially back and forth, to the left and right, as you drive with your finger tip. To transfer an icon from one section of the desktop to another you simply place it on the shelf then move it onto the desired desktop space as you flick your finger around.

I have arrived in the 21st century. I have become somewhat like my daughter with her iPhone and laptop. I don’t need no stinkin’ life. The seduction of technology permeates until there is little distinction between thinking and feeling and expressing yourself and experiencing all this through the accent (or full-blown domination, as in the case of video games or texting or chat, perhaps) of micro-electronics. I have, upon many occasions, sat around a listened to my friends yack for a half-hour or more about how you can do this and that with iPhones or Droids, as if that were a complete subject of legitimate experience all by itself. It just happens. Nobody seems especially bothered by it, all this conversation about how things that are things work as things to create more thingness. In simple terms, the tool becomes a part of who you are instead of just a way of getting things done. Behavior for the sake of the tool instead of the tool as a means of use.

Hopefully, I can keep my life between the ditches of technological encapsulation. That has yet to be seen. Right now, I’m reading a great deal, but little of it is printed books. I am sampling plenty of electronic books, however. The shelves of myPad are filled with the complete six-volumes of Edward Gibbon's classic Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (I read the abridged version in college). I have most of the novels and principle histories of H.G. Wells, the works of Jules Verne, Mark Twain, Marcel Proust's Swann's Way, among other classic authors. I even have several major works by H.P. Lovecraft all sitting there in the myPad library, all for free. Various pages are already bookmarked and highlighted, as is my tradition. It is pretty cool even if it still feels a bit weird not to hold printed material in my hands. I should get used to this, I suppose, now that I have the capability. Amazon.com recently reported that eBook sells now surpass “print” books on their popular website. Besides, I’m kinda low on physical shelf space. But, I’m not shelling out any cash for an ebook until I get more comfortable with the reading experience on myPad.

I have access to all the major news and society television networks and periodicals. Each morning and afternoon I read or watch USA Today, CNN, ABC News, Fox News, CBS News, NBC News, BBC News, PBS programming, CNBC, Bloomberg and so on. In my first couple of weeks with myPad I read The New York Times, The Times of London, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times. But, as soon as my free subscription plays out I will become limited to just scanning the headlines of these newspaper offerings.

It seems to me that subscription-based information models are even more out of place on myPad than they are on my PC. Why pay for anything when there is more information than you can possibly digest available from so many excellent free sources?

Among the Apps that came with myPad is something nifty called Pulse. The Pulse App is an amalgamation of several news outlets and periodicals covering all the top stories from economics to politics to sports to food to fashion. And so on...seemingly forever. All for free. I cannot seem to find the “bottom” of myPad. In this regard it is vastly different from buying a PS3 and HDTV. And it is the very urge to discover more and more ever anew, frankly, that makes myPad so addictive. In addition to my freebie ebooks, for example, I have found a couple of moderately challenging chess Apps that free. There’s more, always more. Technology is a drug this way.

To date I have only paid for two Apps. One is Star Chart which is a terrific companion for checking out the night sky. The portability of the iPad comes in very handy in such instances and I have used it on several occasions to sky-watch and explore outside of my previously “normal” Starry Night and telescope experiences. It is a definite shift in behavior.

You can press your finger tip to any point of light and instantly get a pop up for that star, planet or deep space object, identifying it and providinging such useful basic information as distance, and both apparent and absolute magnitude. You can zoom into the star chart by the common widening of finger and thumb upon the screen. At sufficient magnification the Messier Catalog and many NGC objects of nebula, clusters, and universes are revealed in a thumbnail size image of the thing. Just large enough to appreciate in terms of shape or color or brightness. Good stuff.

Even cooler, you can switch Star Chart from what I call “reference mode” in to GPS-driven “live” mode and point the iPad at any location in the sky to identify anything that happens to be there at that moment. You can even point the iPad down to your feet and see what the sky would look like in the southern hemisphere – the Magellanic Clouds, for example. While this makes jumping around the sky much easier and interactive it has its limitations. It is much more difficult to zoom-in on an object, for example, while you are holding the iPad over your head with one hand and trying to use your other hand to set you magnification. So, the ability to use Star Chart in “live” mode is more of a novelty than anything else.

The other App I have purchased so far is called GarageBand which is expensive as Apps go, costing me all of five bucks. Cheap add-ons (after the somewhat pricey cost of the iPad2 itself, of course) help feed the fires of addiction. With GarageBand I can express my rather mediocre musical talents. I am self-taught on an acoustic guitar and am very second-rate but making music is still fun.

Well, no need for tuning the guitar anymore. Now I can load up the myPad App and enter a world of various guitars both acoustic and electric, of drums and other percussion instruments, of different styles of keyboards. At first, I was totally immersed in tinkering with the pianos. I play around with a 66-key Casio electric keyboard in my study on occasion. I never took any lessons but I enjoy making simple chord progressions and pecking out Christmas Carol tunes now and then. It seems like a cumbersome, bulky luxury now, however. GarageBand has renewed my interest with a wider assortment of pianos, synthesizers and other keyboard instruments.

Beyond fiddling around with individual instruments, however, the App goes much deeper. It has its own recording studio where you can record chord progressions and even vocals (using the built-in myPad mic) and then delve into a surprisingly sophisticated mixing system where you can layer various other instruments and sounds onto your basic guitar, bass, or keyboard performance to create a full-fledged studio sound.

So far, I have created various short pieces of different styles, most lasting 32 bars which equates to about one minute, ten seconds at my standard tempo. After I’ve completed a mix, however, I can torture my friends by emailing it to them or transfer it to my PC for further editing with some software I have loaded on that. Then I can upload it to the internet and wait for the recording contract offers to pour in. If you are curious I have uploaded some samples to share. They are all basically variations on a simple six-chord progression. Here’s a blues/rock mix, an acoustic mix, an extended bass-heavy mix, a piano mix, and something I call a JiveJam mix. Again, all mediocre but still my kind of fun.

In recent days I have found myself resurfacing into physical reality after about a month of heavy exploration in the myPad reality. There are other ideas and interests to explore, after all. Hopefully, myPad will become assimilated with the rest of my life and be just another tool in my way of Being. Hopefully, it won’t become some indispensible part of me like the cell phone is for most people. With technology, who will serve who is always an iffy proposition, however. There’s always a cool new App to download, right?

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