The iPad and the Meaning of Life

What are the new tablet computers good for?

Posted Oct 20, 2010

Is the iPad a transformational, game-changing paradigm shift, or just a clever toy? Here's how I use mine.

When the iPad came earlier this year, I wondered if I could justify buying one
given that I already had a couple of iMacs, a MacBook Air, and an iPod Touch. I concluded that I couldn't justify it, but I bought one anyway. I now find it indispensable for many academic and entertainment purposes.

I've recently made many conference trips with my iPad, using it for presentations in Holland, Denmark, Germany, and Oregon. First I import an old Powerpoint presentation (if needed) into Keynote on my iMac, then transfer the files to the iPad using the handy application Dropbox. I then load the files into the Keynote app (which costs $9.99) that allows the iPad to be used for presentations with a purchased VGA adaptor that connects the iPad to a standard computer projector. The result is indistinguishable from a Powerpoint presentation on a much more cumbersome laptop.

The iPad has many other academic uses, including keeping up with email and reading. I read books using both the iBook and Kindle apps, both free. I can now travel with many electronic books, including ones uses for research as well as the combination of novels, biographies, and histories that I like to read for entertainment. I also bring along journal articles and student theses in PDF form, which I read with a $9.99 app iAnnotatePDF that allows me to mark up them up and email to my other computers. Of course I also use the iPad for Web surfing for both academic and entertainment purposes. Another entertainment use great for long plane trips is movies rented and downloaded from iTunes. Even at home, the iPad is now my preferred way of reading PDFs, and is increasingly taking over for book reading too. On the road or at home, I consult the iPad many times per day. The simple operating system, brilliant screen, and 10-hour battery life make it a pleasure to use.

For news, I have several useful free apps, e.g. from the New York Times, BBC, and the Canadian Globe and Mail. Because I bought only the basic WiFi model rather than the models that require expensive connections, I like to download the newspapers through WiFi so that I can later read them when I'm not connected.
I use other free apps for diverse purposes, such as:
Weather Channel keeps me up to date with detailed reports on selected cities.
Alarm Clock wakes me up even through jet lag.
Units is good for doing conversions of currencies, temperatures, etc.
IMDB provides movie information via the Web.
Yelp tells me what restaurants and other facilities are in the neighborhood.
Solitaire distracts me if I'm really bored, and there are thousands of other video games too, many of them free.
Loseit easily tracks calories consumed, helping me to keep my weight constant when traveling and to lose a few pounds when home.
All these applications are much more pleasant on the iPad than on the much smaller iPod Touch, which I now use only for music.

Overall, I now think that buying an iPad is sufficiently worthwhile for reading books and PDFs alone, with bonuses from all the other uses I've found for it. I haven't yet tried serious writing on the iPad yet, but could easily do so with the light wireless keyboard I just bought.

What does this have to do with the meaning of life? In my recent book on the brain, I argue that the meaning of life is love, work, and play, so anything that enhances these pursuits is relevant to what makes life worth living. Love includes the full range of human relationships involving family and friends, so the iPad's contributions to keeping up with them by email and Web media show its relevance. Similarly, the handiness of the iPad for presentations, email, Web research, and reading PDFs and books show its usefulness for work. Finally, the iPad enriches play through reading for fun and a variety of entertaining applications. The iPad is not essential for having a meaningful life, but can definitely enhance it.

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