Are you an iPad or a laptop?

I’ve never been a big tablet user. This may come as a surprise to some, given that I assist patrons with their tablets every day at the public library. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Nexus 7 tablet. It’s perfect for reading ebooks, using Twitter, and watching Netflix; but the moment I want to respond to an email, edit a photo, or work my way through a Treehouse lesson, I feel helpless. Several library patrons have asked me if our public computers will be replaced by iPads and tablets. It’s hard to say where technology will take us in the coming years, but I strongly believe that a library without computers would leave us severely handicapped.

ipad_laptop-01One of our regular library patrons, let’s call her Jane, is a diehard iPad fan. She is constantly on the hunt for the next great app and enjoys sharing her finds with me and my colleagues. Jane frequently teases me about preferring computers and whenever I’m leading a computer class she’ll ask “Can I do it on my iPad?” She’s not the only person I know who thinks that computers are antiquated and on their way to obsoletion, but I have plenty of hope for computers regardless of the iPad revolution.

In observing how patrons use technology, and reflecting on how I use technology in my personal and professional life, I find that tablets are excellent tools for absorbing and consuming information. However, they are not designed for creation. 9 times out of 10, if you want to make something, you’re better off using a computer. In a recent Wired article about digital literacy, Ari Geshner poses the question “Are you an iPad or are you a laptop? An iPad is designed for consumption.” He explains that literacy “means moving beyond a passive relationship with technology.”

So Jane is an iPad and I am a laptop. We’ve managed to coexist and I think that’s the best approach. Tablets and computers may both fall under the digital literacy umbrella, but they are entirely different tools. I sincerely hope that public libraries will continue to consider computers and tablets separately, encouraging a thirst for knowledge as well as a desire to create.