The iPad is Exactly as Cool as AOL
Let's imagine Queen Publishing is dying. She is lying there in her golden bed snuggled up under her grey afghan made of the scalps of imminent authors, surrounded by her trusted vulture-like physicians in their wire spectacles and lace-up boots.

Her children fret and weep at the foot of her bed, and her knights are out roaming the country-side, searching for a cure for her wasting illness. The candlelight flickers. She can still hold her head up, but just barely. Her ropy neck is like a tangle of wires behind an entertainment cabinet in the home of a suburban dental hygienist.

Queen Publishing scowls at her courtiers, and there is still some life left in her withered, pox-riddled jowls. She still has at least one tooth left, though in order to feed her they must mash up kippers and limes and serve them dissolved in a fizzy beer.

She opens her mouth -- a sphincter of wrinkles like a crumpled tissue -- and everyone draws closer to listen:

"You have all failed me, my children and courtiers. I am dying and nothing can be done. BRING IN THE CHARLATANS! LET THEM HAVE THEIR SAY!"

There is an explosion outside as maids and servants scatter and word spreads all around Queen Publishing's country manor.

The door to her sick chamber slams open, and in comes a squat dwarf with rings on every finger and a handlebar mustache. He is carrying a picnic basket with a red bow on it. He dances around the sick chamber. The bells tied to his lank hair jangle as he shows everyone his basket -- flipping, falling, capering.

Everyone claps as he pulls off a frontward flip.

"I am Google, Wizard of the West!" says the dwarf. "Hoo-hoo! I have brought you this MAGIC BASKET! I cannot stop you from dying, Queen Publishing, but when you die, I will collect your soul in this MAGIC BASKET! Everyone who wants to visit you will be able to stick their head in this MAGIC BASKET and smell your smells and taste your essence! Hoo-hoo! Ha-ha!"

"How will this profit me?" asks Queen Publishing. "What will I gain from this?"

"IMMORTALITY," says Google, Wizard of the West.

"Let it be done," says Queen Publishing. "When I am dead, let Google, Wizard of the West, collect my soul in his magic basket for all to see."

There is a gunshot and plaster falls from the ceiling. There is another gunshot and Google cowers. In walks a tall, lanky cowboy with chaps and sixguns. He spits a wad of chaw onto the floor and grinds it into the marble with the toe of his boot.

"Howdy, ya'll," says the cowboy. "My name is Amazon! I know how to save Queen Publishing. She don't have to die, if you do exactly what I say. It's easy as damn pie. And we all know how easy damn pie is."

The courtiers and children of Queen Publishing laugh nervously.

"How will you save my mum?" asks one of the small princes at the Queen's side.

"Well now," says Amazon the Cowboy, squatting down by the prince. "I'm gonna take your momma and freeze her 'afore she dies. I'm gonna freeze her and lock her up in the highest tower. And I'm gonna charge people to go up there and see her up in that thar tower, and we are gonna use the money we make to build a new Queen. We'll build a new Queen out of steel and numbers! We'll build her a thousand stories high and we'll live inside her feet!"

There is a hush among the courtiers.

Queen Publishing coughs.

"I doubt that anyone will want to visit my frozen, withered body in a high tower. They do not want to visit me now, for instance. You will not be able to build this new Queen."

"We'll put a lock on the door," says Amazon the Cowboy. "People go crazy when there's a lock on the door. They'll pay anything to know what's on the other side! It's human psychology! Plus, they'll get to sit one-on-one with a real-life frozen queen in a high tower! Hell, anybody'd pay for that! Top dollar!"

"You propose to build my replacement out of steel and numbers?" says the Queen, skeptical.

Amazon the Cowboy stammers. A shadow falls on him and he turns to the door. Footsteps approach. There is the sound of a whinnying horse.

In walks a man clad all in leather with a shaved head and wraparound spectacles. He is carrying a boombox. He sets the boombox on the ground and presses "play." Strange, ambient music fills the death chamber.

"I am from the future," says the man. "My name is Apple. Only Apple. In the future, there is no Queen Publishing. You cannot fight this. Give me all of your money. There is no time. There are no Queens in the future. There is only Apple. There is no time. I will need your lands, the fealty of your people, and your tax revenue. There is not even time for a funeral for the old Queen. I am from the future. Behold me. The future!"

He raises his arms. He is holding flashlights. He turns the flashlights on and waves the beams around. The courtiers gasp.

"The devil's magic!" they scream.

Queen Publishing coughs.

"Whatever," she says. "Let Amazon the Cowboy freeze me, and let the charlatan called Apple have my lands, my taxes, and your fealty. My time draws near. In the movie version of my life, I would like to be played by..."

Everyone leans closer, but a coughing fit takes Queen Publishing and she cannot finish. The physicians usher the charlatans out, and the death watch continues.



The target market for the iPad is exactly the same target market as people who still use AOL email addresses: people who do not actually like or understand computers.

These are the same people who must draw when they get two blanks in their Scrabble rack, because there are too many possibilities for seven-letter words and they become PARALYZED.

Their head swims. They need their vision narrowed.

A laptop gives them "too many choices." They want fewer choices. They want these fewer choices to be lit up for them and managed, so that they know that these limited choices are the "correct" choices. They need someone to assure them that all you can do with a computer is:

1. Chat
2. Watch movies / porn
3. Play games
4. Read the news

They don't want to understand computers or take them seriously. They don't want to understand how they work, or accidentally become computer literate and enter the modern age.

Which is fine. But this is exactly as cool as AOL. This is exactly as cool as paying $19.95 a month for a filtered, guided "internet" experience.

The iPad takes the internet -- one of the most awesome and powerful inventions ever created by humanity (and created anew everyday (by whoeverthefuck (I love the internet))) -- and turns it into television.

Just like AOL tried to do, once upon a time. And back then, we were all like: no way. We don't want a corporate filter on what we are able to experience and make.

We will take our chances with less attractive web design and unfettered social engineering, if this lets us do whatever we want in a lawless, anonymous, gunslinging melee.



Hopefully, publishers are smart enough to see that nobody but a couple thousand rich assholes (who are easily bored (and will also buy the next stupid thing)) are going to buy an iPad.

Hopefully, publishers are not going to dedicate their last, precious resources into creating content for this machine, and will instead create content that works universally.

Perhaps the content they create will ALSO be usable on the iPad, but instead of letting these tech companies tell them what to do, hopefully publishers will instead use their resources to BECOME computer literate, putting out the best possible ebooks for tablet PCs that are merely hosted on the internet, instead of cobbling together proprietary code and making Apps that can only be used on Apple's silly machines.

Because the problem of the shrinking impact and strength of American literature will not be solved by making it harder to buy, and by making it even more of an elite jewel.

The real salvation for literature and publishing is:

1. Print-on-demand
2. The, uh, fucking internet
3. The lessons of hip-hop
4. Finding new, good writers
5. Not selling out to Hollywood
6. Small, independent bookstores
7. Hiring people who did not go to Ivy League Schools to sell books written by people who did not go to Ivy League Schools to people who did not go to Ivy League Schools


Imagine the internet is a big ball of swirling blue gas filled with dreams that sits in the middle of the planet like the creamy center of a chocolate Easter egg.

Imagine that when anybody takes an Idea Shit, this Idea Shit travels to this swirling blue waste and joins it.

So companies come along and offer people the chance to suck some of this Idea Shit back into their own brains, to replenish themselves on the blue gas that is their own heritage (after all, some of their Idea Shit is already in the ball).

The companies charge a hefty price for sinking straws down into the ground that let people suck down this Idea Shit, and these straws also let people send Idea Shit where they want it to go in the swirling gas vortex, allowing people to play Idea Shit Pinball.

If a company comes along and says...wait, wait, wait...we are going to take some of this Idea Shit and suspend it above California and create a NEW BALL OF IDEA SHIT that costs $500 to use, but will be better -- we promise -- because it will be made by PROFESSIONALS. Is anybody really gonna take them up on this?

It's Idea Shit! It cannot get any better or worse! And it's better if we leave it in the center of the Earth, because god knows what will happen if we try to keep that shit clean or "professional." If you find a way to police, control, and sanitize the giant ball of Idea Shit in the center of the world, then you have invented perfect totalitarianism.

And maybe Apple wants a crack at this. But I don't think they will succeed -- I don't think they CAN succeed -- and I don't think publishers should get too enamored with their ambitions.


How are people in prison going to read books on the iPad?

How are poor people?

Have you actually given up on trying to inspire and entertain the weak, downtrodden, and hungry?

Who else reads fiction? Who else even likes fiction?


Anyway, the iPad sucks. People sure are excited about it, though.

I wish people in publishing could get as excited about their own products as they do about tech gadgets that will only erode their craft.

Posted by miracle on Mon, 12 Apr 2010 12:03:20 -0500 -- permanent link

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