BIG changes; NOTHING changes. A Response to Derek Mueller.

Lenovo Idea Pad S10-3t TabletI dedicated a previous post to speculating on what Apple might offer when they unveil their tablet computer later this month (or so the rumors go). Derek Mueller responded with an intelligent comment about banality. So I wanted to write a post that I think demonstrates Derek’s point about change-not-change. I want to write about machines that offer at least some small changes. And then I’ll reflect a bit on what these mean to me and my writing practices.

Yep. BIG changes; nothing changes. But because this is all speculation, I look back at this post, and I realize how much of it is informed by what I HOPE Apple will do. I’ve been following the inter-webs about the goings-on at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas this week hoping to see some great new gadgets or form factors that might be available. I don’t know how much room there really is to making interesting changes to laptops or desktops. Couple that pessimism with my recent interest in the possible Apple tablet, and I’ve been looking a lot at The Lenovo IdeaPad U1 Hybridtablet PC form factors emerging. I gotta tell ya, it’s been a great, big yawn. There have really only been three machines that I find even remotely interesting.

The Lenovo IdeaPad U1 Hybrid. Cool concept. A laptop that leaves the keyboard behind and becomes a slate when that’s all you want. But this idea has been around at least 5 years. Motion Computing offered a similar idea, but it didn’t catch on. This one’s not going to work either. I just don’t think people will pay $1000 for the power of a mediocre netbook, especially when you still have to keep track of that keyboard when you detach the slate. Also, that clear, red plastic bezel looks like a damage claim waiting to be denied.

The Archos 9 PCTablet The Archos 9 PCTablet. This one I like. A lot. Though I hadn’t seen this machine before I wrote my post about the Apple tablet, they bear some resemblances. Large, pretty screen. Integrated web cam. No keyboard available. Only onscreen. And in it’s favor, at about $550, it’s about half of what I expect the Apple tablet to launch at. But this machine also has some killers. The stylus is awful. The screen isn’t multi-touch. And it’s not pretty at all. No style what so ever.

The Lenovo Idea Pad S10-3t Tablet. (Graphic at top of page.) This one is the machine for me. And it’s not even a slate! Nice size (10”), and relatively snappy processor (N450), decent memory capacity (2GB), decent HDD (250GB). And I have to say that I really don’t think I’m ready to give up the keyboard, so this is a real plus for this machine. And the price, with this well-outfitted trim: $650. I know, you can get an inexpensive 13” or 15” for that with better specs. Yes, but you lose the ultra-portability and the touch screen capability.

The Point

So why do I point these out? In some ways these are very different from our more entrenched ideas about laptops, but how much will they change our writing, our writing practices, the texts we produce, or the texts we consume? Bigger or Smaller. Faster. Longer lasting laptops don’t really make much difference in our composing and reading practices. At least they haven’t been factors that have changed much lately. We still, generally, pop-it-open-and-type. Maybe surf. Maybe post it. “Touch” is the new thing. That and eReaders, but I don’t want to talk about those right now.

If I were to buy any of these machines, would my reading or writing practices be any different? By and large, no. The first two machines really only introduce the idea of touch. That’s great. I love the touch interface on my iPhone. And as far as these machines would be internet surfing and e-reading machines, they’d be great. But when I think about my own practices, I know that I’d want a keyboard; I know that I’d like the smaller form factor of the S10-3t. When I get online, I’m usually writing an email, writing notes, or writing blog posts. I need a keyboard. Definitely. But I have to admit that the thing I drool over the most, is how I think these machines would change the way I just sit and read digital texts. Whether it’s the latest issue of Kairos or Computers & Composition Online, or a book I’ve scanned in, or a PDF of a journal article. Though I have no trouble reading on screen all day long, I would love to be able to curl up on the couch or my bed and relax with these texts. My current laptop just doesn’t allow for that.

At this point, I’m pretty much ready to pull the trigger and purchase the S10-3t, but it won’t be shipping for at least another month or two. In the meantime, I’ll get to see what else emerges from CES as well as seeing what Apple’s going to drop on us. But what all of this reading about gadgets has made me realize is this: My relationship to writing technologies is recursive. Sometimes there are things I wanna do with the tech, so I start looking for that functionality. I wanna read in bed or highlight texts with a stylus, so I start looking at tablet PCs. I wanna use mind-mapping as part of my invention and revision process, so I look for software that can do that. But then there are other parts of my process that have been initiated by developments I hadn’t thought of. Multiple screens, for instance, have had a huge impact on my writing practices. In a more historical sense, the mouse and graphical user interface have deeply affected my practices.

And I really think it’s important that we continue to think through the changes, whether large or small, in writing technologies. To think about them early in their development stages. To find out where these devices are being talked about, considered, and tested. To find ways to participate in those conversations. But that’s all development side. There’s the consumer/producer side as well. We’ve got to maintain a position where we’re actively engaged with emerging technologies in order to explore innovative (and often wasteful) ways of using them. That’s part of my mission with this blog, I think. To keep paying attention to emerging technologies. To notice emerging practices. To reflect on them. To critique them. And where better than to start with my own technologies/gadgets/tools/ software/practices/hang-ups/confusions?

So tomorrow, I’ll start yet another thread on this blog where I start thinking through these ideas. Maybe I’ll write about my triple monitors. Maybe I’ll write about my laptop. And there are several other gadgets I’ll try to get to also. Soon enough.

My question for you…

What new gadgets do you find yourself fetishizing or lusting after? A MacBook Air? An Alienware gaming laptop? A pink netbook? The Droid? Let me know. Drop a link. Or maybe you want to do the opposite; rant a little about a popular technology that you just don’t get. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.