The shame of owning an iPad

An iPad on the London Underground - how embarrassing.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

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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