Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Obama, God, and the iPad

Did we get your attention?

There was so much speculation over the past few days about today's announcement of Apple's new tablet, the iPad--just hours before President Obama's State of the Union address this evening. He is expected to give a speech cheer leading on the jobs front, but not the Steve Jobs front. (Here is what it would be like if Steve Jobs actually delivered the speech for President Obama.)

Slate's William Saletan published a thoughtful essay this morning titled "Apple vs. Obama. Which is more important: Politics or Technology?" Saletan's guess is technology is the more important of the two. Given the apparent inevitability of rich democracies to become mired in vested interests, as I have argued in Foreign Policy magazine, Saletan might be right. Here is how he puts it:

Will the Apple tablet overshadow Obama? I don't know. But here's my bet: If January 2010 ends up being remembered for a political speech, it won't be Obama's. It'll be the speech Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered Thursday. Clinton denounced Internet censorship around the world as an "information curtain" akin to the Iron Curtain of the Soviet era. She championed the "freedom to connect"—an updated, online version of freedom of assembly. And she outlined a place for politics in the march of information technology. "On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress," she observed. "But the United States does. We stand for a single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas."

While our politicians must accommodate both domestic and international politics, technology acts as an empowering force for social change on both levels.

Similarly, and somewhat profanely, people have wondered whether the new Apple product will save us. Some have called it the "Jesus pad." Others hope that the device will save the newspaper and magazine industry.

At least Apple has given the media something fun to talk about again. In fact this blog post was a bit of an experiment. In 2005, Slate coyly wondered why the press loves Apple so much. It seems to me that, like religion and politics, Apple just grabs peoples' attention. It is that simple. If you put one of these things in a headline, you are bound to get readers, right?

In any case, my colleagues were wondering what the next logical step would be after the iPad. As an aside, I think the new tablet could only be called an "iPad" as Apple seems to have a style guide for its products: It simply looks for the shortest word possible (phone, pod, Mac, bud, etc.) If the iPad could be used for augmented reality maybe the next phase would be a tablet helmet (call it a hamlet?) that you wear on your head. But knowing Apple's style, my bet would be the "iHood" or, even shorter, the "iHat."

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