The shame of owning an iPad

The shame of owning an iPad

Summary: An iPad on the London Underground - how embarrassing.

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TOPICS: Hardware, iPad, Mobility
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Envy, curiousity or open sneering. There are a variety of reactions one can experience when using a tablet in public. It's certainly not all sunshine, rainbows and cutting-edge technology.

iPad users: are we considered 'the selfish elite', is there an element of self-consciousness attributed to its use, and how do others view us?

A guest post on Profhacker, was recently published by Doug Ward, a teacher of editing, reporting, history and innovation at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Kansas. In the article, he recollected his experiences when iPads were introduced to his seminar group:

News that all the graduate students in my Future of Media seminar would receive iPads for the semester generated a flurry of excitement.

Some students replied with exclamation points in their email messages. Some stopped and asked when the iPads would be available. Others passed on word to classmates and seemed to enjoy the envious responses.

Then something odd happened: The students, all in their mid- to late 20s, became self-conscious about carrying iPads. They refused to use them in public. They felt elitist. In their eyes, the iPad represented snobbery, a technological tool that no one needed and whose utility was far from apparent. Used to a graduate student frugality, they didn’t want to be seen as profligate.

Ward found it surprising that his students demonstrated this reaction. A study last year categorised the psychological profile of an iPad user as 'selfish elites', but is this truly the case?

I admit, I feel self-conscious for using my iPad in public. This is not because I believe they are an 'elitist' product. Rather, the coveted looks it garners in certain areas of London, where I live, rouses my suspicious tendencies to dizzying highs. I feel most concerned about suddenly ending up on the pavement, while watching a pimple-bedecked teenager fleeing down the road with my hard-earned device in glee.

In a confined space, such as perching on the dirt-encrusted, stained and worn seats of the London Underground -- surrounded by suit-clad sweaty bodies and raucous teenage groups -- the worries of theft may not be so strong (unless you happen to be inebriated and on the last train home), but the ever-present stares are still constant.

Some of the suited & booted cling desperately to broadsheets, over-sized newspapers that require many a maneuver and tactic to read on every form of public transport. Others, using e-readers such as Kindles, inadvertently stick their elbows out and poke many a passenger in the ribs while they struggle in desperation to thread their way through the throng and reach an exit.

Kindle users only receive passing glances. Yes, sometimes these contain a flicker of annoyance at being bashed whilst the reader remains absorbed in their digital pages; but iPad users are positively gawked at.

Before their popularity heightened, e-readers attracted a lot of curiousity. If it was on the London Underground, I may have recieved the odd comment or sigh from a long-suffering broadsheet reader, "I really need to get one of those." and a few long looks.

However, tablets receive far more scrutiny than e-readers ever managed. Now, often curiousity beckons passengers to initiate discussions (unheard of on British public transport), and more than a few times I've been asked to give a recommendation on a tablet model.

If I happened to use an iPad on a bus in certain parts of suburban London, then I receive continual attention. I began to feel self-conscious with the stares it achieved -- not because I felt 'elitist' -- but I was more concerned about an attempt at theft.

That was, until I stopped using it completely in public. Three times in the space of a month I received a little too much unwanted attention, a 'gentleman' in his thirties with no subtlety at all and a sneer 'accidentally' attempting to make me drop it, and two members of Gen-Y once decided to proclaim to the other passengers that there was a 'rich bitch' on board, among a host of other slanders from other passengers.

However, I don't feel pressured when using a smartphone. Although its monetary value is not incredibly dissimilar to a tablet, as smartphone devices are now far more commonplace, the social meaning attributed to them have changed.

In the same manner, the 'elitist' value of owning an iPad will disappear within a few years, as tablet models continue to saturate the market.

As Ward experienced, an obviously expensive product used in public can mark you out in a crowd, my own experiences of university striking a chord with his writing. While a device remains 'out of the common way' it can lead to feelings of self-consciousness and as if you are 'showing off' to your peers. You are not using the device because you need it, but because you can.

In the future, especially as students at a younger age are being introduced to and using the devices within school settings, instead of tablets being viewed as 'a technological tool that no one needed and whose utility was far from apparent' it will become a commonplace component of learning. Not only this, but tablet use will become further utilized in work ecosystems that requires flexibility, travel and instant resource access.

In this manner, eventually, tablet users on the London Underground will eventually receive the same attention as the Kindle owner -- little more than a passing glance.

The balance between sophisticated technology and access by the wider public due to affordability will always mark out these devices, at least higher-end spectrum models like Apple products. I don't regret buying an iPad, and I will no doubt eventually upgrade to an iPad 3 -- but I am more careful about where I choose to use it.

As access becomes more widespread, such as students using them on campus, or even kindergarten kids, the value of these tools will no doubt be more appreciated. They will be seen less as a status symbol and 'just because you can afford it', and more as a valuable device for both studies and work.

However, until the tablet market has expanded its grip within both educational and work spheres and become more affordable for the general public, it will still be considered a novelty and status symbol -- and may sometimes attract unwanted attention.

It is not so much an elitist item, than a coveted one.

Image credit: Jon Fingas

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Topics: Hardware, iPad, Mobility

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184 comments
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  • Envy, curiousity or open sneering?

    How about the 4th one - not caring?

    I view someone with an iPad no differently then someone with a Tab, Macbook, or Dell as nothing out of the ordinary.
    William Farrel
    • You're not here

      Mind you, she's partly right, partly overly self-conscious.

      It used to be on the busses and underground that people would do the same to the smartphone set (they still do to a degree) but people basically don't care for the most part. Well, except for a small minority about equal measure chavs and those with genuine interest in said gadget. Give it until the Olympics and it'll be normal to tootle around with a slab.

      Me, I'd rather be bitten by a rabid antipodean than go "mobile."
      ego.sum.stig
      • antipodean?

        Did it make you feel better to type a big word... one that you obviously have no clue what it means...
        SpankyFrost
        • craziness is as craziness does

          an·tip·o·des (n-tp-dz)
          pl.n.
          1. Any two places or regions that are on diametrically opposite sides of the earth.
          2. (used with a sing. or pl. verb) Something that is the exact opposite or contrary of another; an antipode.
          DontUseMicrosoftAtAll
      • To SmartPhones

        The only thing I dislike when using mass transit is smartphone/cell phone users who are too loud and phones with loud and obnoxious ringers. Please people, silence your phones! The rest of us don't need to hear them.
        jimlonero
      • UK kulture & biting antipodean's

        UK impression ... ere what you lookin at! chavs. Footy hooligans..need I say anymore.
        Only thing worth extracting from a dead society aka UK is the BBC & assoc off shoots.
        Down South - aussie you get a similar reaction to that described the reporter. It's all in the device user's behaviours. Don't care/unaware work very well to make the trip scary or not. Exception is bus travel. Travellers in this situation generally are car less commuters & displays of "Im different" can anticipate a less favourable reaction perhaps.
        Tech devices with lower costs such as ereaders attract less reaction. If tablets drop in price the commuting public will be less hostile.

        Note: More rabid animals in UK than compared to antipodea - no street riots. Explain that one away!!
        AndrewMcNeill
    • Me either

      If it works for them then cool. However, it has to be said that there are the people out there that like to show off their iPad or even some other tablet like it is some sort of status symbol. I have literally been in coffee houses using my Laptop or Macbook and had people make comments on how "unhip" I was for not having an iPad. I have a small Android Tab that I use occasionally and have been asked why I bought that when the iPad is so much cooler.

      As much as I love technology I do not use it as a status symbol and do not get jealous over what someone else has. It is just like the people that sneer at me because I use an AMD Processor when some feel the Intel is a better processor. Who the heck cares. I use what works for me and what fits into my budget. I do the same for the organization I work for. Do my best to find the right technology to complete the task at hand all while trying to stay within budget.
      bobiroc
      • GIVE ME A BREAK

        [i]I have literally been in coffee houses using my Laptop or Macbook and had people make comments on how "unhip" I was for not having an iPad.[/i]

        Poor poor me.

        [i]It is just like the people that sneer at me because I use an AMD Processor when some feel the Intel is a better processor.[/i]

        And I'll bet you were picked on when you were a kid, huh...

        lol...
        ScorpioBlack
      • I've seen it too

        I don't have a tablet (as I see no need for one at the moment) but when we're at Starbucks some mornings I've noticed that the people with the iPads try to "display it" as opposed to just using it.

        Not that they weren't using it before, but with the laptops (PC and Macs) when the users where finished, it's right back in the case. It seemed the iPad people cleared off an area on their tables and placed the unit down for all to see. If a friend comes, they move it to another display space.

        Not that all iPad owners do this. I imagine some have slipped their iPads back into their packs so I wouldn't have noticed them doing so.

        Just my observation on how some people view their iPads, or more accurately, how they hope others view them because they own an iPad.
        William Farrel
      • Uh-huh yea right

        [i]I don't have a tablet (as I see no need for one at the moment) but when we're at Starbucks some mornings I've noticed that the people with the iPads try to "display it" as opposed to just using it.[/i]

        I suspect [b]you[/b] were self-consciously aware that they were in a Starbucks to begin with. If they were looking to be seen, you certainly gave it to them.

        [i]Not that they weren't using it before, but with the laptops (PC and Macs) when the users where finished, it's right back in the case. It seemed the iPad people cleared off an area on their tables and placed the unit down for all to see. If a friend comes, they move it to another display space.[/i]

        So do you go into a Starbucks alone and people don't give you a second glance? Feeling left out? Maybe projecting some pseudo-superiority complex because you don't own one?

        [i]Not that all iPad owners do this. I imagine some have slipped their iPads back into their packs so I wouldn't have noticed them doing so.[/i]

        Now why wouldn't you have noticed that? But you do notice it when it's laptops.

        [i]Just my observation on how some people view their iPads, or more accurately, how they hope others view them because they own an iPad.[/i]

        Maybe you should mind your own business more often, don't-ch think?
        ScorpioBlack
        • The truth can hurt

          Presumably you are an iPad user who likes showing it off in Starbucks.
          shootnhooton
      • Well, intels are better processors, hands down.

        But not everyone needs the great parallelism and virtualization support provided by intel. If all you do is work with word, or read spreadsheets for a living, you don't need much of anything to do your job.
        Tea.Rollins
      • Agreed.

        What's cooler is a matter of opinion. Tell them that!
        jimlonero
    • Maybe they felt self-conscious

      Because -
      [i]News that all the graduate students in my Future of Media seminar would [b]receive iPads for the semester[/b] generated a flurry of excitement.[/i]

      They were all [b]given[/b] (as in FREE) something many can't afford.

      Wouldn't you feel self-conscious about anything flashy under those circumstances?
      William Farrel
      • Free ipads for students

        The students do not receive anything FREE in any course/country. They would have paid in their fee structure for the devices or through a tax funded student placement.
        AndrewMcNeill
    • well stated.

      I don't know about the British, but nobody here in the states seems to care if you have an ipad or any tablet for that matter.
      business owner
      • A capital city phenomenon, perhaps?

        It's not really a British thing. I'm afraid that Charlie's article, along with the incidents to which she refers, serves as a social commentary on present-day London rather than anything else. Perhaps similar societal dysfunction is rife in other major cities, I wouldn't know; but out here in the provinces, hostility to fellow citizens is the exception, rather than the norm.
        front.row@...
    • Agree, but she isn't imagining some of the reaction...

      I agree that the vast majority don't care, but some people do react the way she describes. I'm an old geek, so I remember the same reaction when the very first battery-powered laptop computers started appearing. Things like the Radio Shack Model 100 always attracted above average attention when I used them in public. It's the newness of it combined with mass awareness of its existence, price, and capabilities. I'll give an example of what I mean. Very few people take a second glance at a woman carrying an $800 purse because very few people recognize those bags which cost that much. Virtually everyone knows iPads can cost that much, so there is far more recognition of the monetary value you are carrying around.

      When far more people have tablet devices, the recognition and attention level will fade to the same level as smartphones. Being ubiquitous brings higher levels of anonymity. If everyone has them, it's no longer interesting. As an example, iPads currently draw more attention than even $3,000 laptops. Why? Laptop use is common and expected. Carrying an iPad is still fairly novel.

      So, some people are definitely paying more attention (good or bad) to folks who use iPads in public. The majority, though, really don't care. Some owners are just sensitive to the extra attention. They prefer blending into the masses. For those people, hiding their devices until they become more common and boring is a good approach.
      BillDem
    • True but

      Most buy and own an ipad for the wrong reasons.
      Its use is mainly for browsing and little else.

      And the people using them seem to be idiots trying to input something with more difficulty, while trying to pretend its cool, than simply writing something down on paper or a something with a keypad.

      So while some people might realize its just a useful toy, and use it as such, they are in the company of idiots that own it for the sake of owning it.
      Its not shame.. its embarrassment !!
      JABBER_WOLF
      • what a tool!

        I've owned all three versions of the iPad and I've used and continue to use my iPad. This entire post/article is ridiculous at best. The bottom line is the iPad is very useful to me and I couldn't care less what people think about my owning one and using it. As a writer and creative person I find it incredibly useful, including the touch-screen keyboard. Crawl back into your hole and enjoy using your crappy Android phone and your equally crappy, blue screen of death Windows PC. Stop whining enough already with the Apple bashing -- it's so absurd our culture continually roots for failure on all levels!
        heave-ho