The iPad, and Expectations of Creativity

Every year the Grammy Awards seem less and less important to me.  And I’m not sure, exactly, why that is.  It could be a continuous personal detachment from popular music.  But it could also be that the award shows- the Grammys, Academy Awards, and even the old MTV award- used to bring a bit of unpredictability or creativity that they don’t seem to have any longer.  True, the more traditional award shows are far more tame than the MTV awards, but past hosts tended to bring their own personalities to the program in a new, or creative way.  This aside, one of the highlights of this year’s musical event was Stephen Colbert’s unveiling of his sleek, new iPad.

Selected to give the “Song of the Year” award, Colbert (who also won a Grammy) called, “… and the nominees are…” began scouring his pockets for what viewers expected would be a finely-cut envelope and turned to cameras asking, “I’m sorry, where’s the list?”  Looking to his pockets once more, “Oh I remember… It’s on my iPad… Jay-Z did you now get one of these in your gift bag?  Am I cooler than you?”  Cameras turned to Colbert’s daughter, who gestured to confirm that he was not.  In the press room following the awards, Colbert mentioned that “awesome” as it was, he did not even get to keep his shiny new toy.

After months of hype over Apple’s new reader, the iPad’s reception was actually pretty cold.  But why is this?  Was it because of the hype itself?  There were roomers that it would be flexible (physically).  Able to fold in half.  That you could turn pages by bending the “book” and flicking the corner as you would a new magazine.  That you could thumb through pages without licking the tip of your finger.  Business men were speaking of a secret subscription service that would save the news paper industry and not be revealed until the black-turtlenecked Jobs himself pulled up a copy of the New York Times on his company’s newest attempt at multi-media dominance (see iTunes).  These are the types of expectations that come with a new Apple product.  Shrouded in mystery, suspense and a touch of futurist aesthetic, Apple’s growing army of consumers feed on unpacking their fervent infatuation with their victorious purchase (after buying a new computer from the Apple store, a “Lead Genius’” tells you, “congratulations for purchasing an Apple.”  (Disclosure: I write this blog from my Powerbook G4, while listening to my iPod, that uploaded songs from my Time Capsule).

But this time, expectations were not met.  And there were a whole host of reasons why people were complaining about the new product, but the following is a concise list of critiques:

* First, the iPad or Apple Tablet built with it’s very poor feature where they included 3G capabilities but you can’t make a call with it..

* Second is that you can’t do two functions or we can call it multi-tasking unlike Windows or PC.

* Third is that Apple iPad doesn’t support a flash or SWF files meaning you can’t play flash games and of course some applications requires Flash it means that you can’t run them on iPad.

* Fourth is that the Apple iPad is just a big iPhone or let’s say it’s a Steroid iPhone.

This last one is the most common.  Why buy the iPad when the iPhone has so many similar functions and is nearly a quarter the size?

While the iPad phenomenon may simply be another case of a product that doesn’t quite fulfill expectations, it may also say something about the nature of creativity and expectations as information is exchanged over the tech-rumor mills of the internet.  Is it possible that with such easy access to broad speculation, and without any legitimate confirmation of speculation that we are inevitably discouraging ourselves before products even hit the shelves?  Are expectations of creativity so high, that something (whether it be an electronic device, a movie, painting, etc) must be so prolific that it “blows us away?”  Has unfathomable exceptionally become a standard for what our culture, internet culture, deems “creative,” while sub-exceptionalism has been rendered mediocre?  Does excessive sensationalism through image across all forms of media dulled our sense of exceptional creativity?  Exceptional violence?  Exceptional beauty?  By such standards, it does seem that something need be, in fact, surreal in order to be more relevant and celebrated in reality (Baudrillard).

Lastly, and on an almost unrelated note, I find it worth mentioning that in his sixth decade of making music, Neil Young won his first Grammy.  After all these years, and countless canonical recordings, its astounding that he hadn’t won one until now.  There is also something poetic here: the latest 21st century gadget sharing the stage with a songwriter whose music embodies the natural acoustics of the American landscape and the growl of 20th century American machinery (Young himself is an antique car collector, many of which, he has converted to run on vegetable oil).

Brian Mehler is a former MA student at Georgetown University’s department of Communication, Culture and Technology. While completing his BA in English Literature at Villanova University, he focused his studies on the role of new media in contemporary art, critical theory and digital poetics. A native of Freeport, ME, he has worked as a consultant and researcher in the non-profit sector for the Phoenix Foundation- a Portland-based organization that teaches ethical leadership and alternative learning throughout northern New England. Between his academic endeavors, Brian took a year off to travel, mostly backpacking through India and Nepal where he spent most of his time exploring the Kathmandu Valley and trekking in the Himalayas. In Washington DC, his research focuses on cultural narratives, social innovation, international development and visual theory.