A Post That's Not (really) About the iPad

In choosing “Digital Street Smarts” as the name of our blog, Jack and I wanted to emphasize that we’ll be providing thoughts on social media, mobile, and digital marketing from a practical, “lived it,” point of view. This kind of work ethic led me to unexpected places this week when I took a short vacation to my parents’ house so that they could spend some quality time with the grandkids. It was good to get my head out of my laptop (and phone), and I found myself making note of events that really brought to life all of the stats and trends that we read/write about on a daily basis. Stepping back like this allowed me to focus on real-life social media + mobile experiences for a few days. Here's what I saw...

My 60-ish Year Old Dad: Dad is a champion of traditional media consumption. In addition to going through a new novel and several magazines each week, he reads an actual local newspaper every night while simultaneously watching movies/sitcoms/news on TV. On my first night there, he said to me “If this isn’t a sign of the times, I don’t know what is,” and showed me the local newspaper. It was a thin, flimsy thing. I’ve seen junk mail that’s thicker. We all know that newspapers are going out of business, but to see a newspaper that serves a metro area of over one million people in such a weakened state really hit me. I could almost hear it gasping for breath over the background noise of the TV...

My 22 Year-old Sister: Like most people her age, my “baby” sister silently texts to friends constantly, even as she engages in conversations that are right there in the room with her. No surprises there. The poignant moment came at night however, when she passed out on the family couch (she had generously given up her old room so that my kids would have a quite place to nap and sleep at night). For four nights in a row, my sister literally fell asleep with her phone in her hand. In the same way that she dozed in and out of late night conversations with her siblings who were in the room with her, she also talked to friends via text – that’s how fundamental her phone is to her life experiences.

My Three Year Old Son:  My older son just turned three and has been spending increasing amounts of time online. It has recently evolved from simply watching videos (robots or construction videos on YouTube) to more interactive content related to what he watches on TV (Sesame Street and Sid The Science Kid). At first, he needed more time than I expected to learn how to use the trackpad and mouse. As intuitive as we think these devices are, the truth is that using a mouse is an unnatural and learned behavior. He repeatedly reached out to touch the screen when we first started using my laptop and still occasionally does so. His behavior certainly makes sense and is probably influenced by his use of my Droid phone.

The part where I talk about the iPad: So where's all of this lead? In light of the iPad, I’ve been talking a lot with colleagues about the death of purpose-specific hardware, and you can easily see how a tablet device would serve each of the above users extremely well (and upend a few business models in the process). Today’s post was initially about the iPad device, but instead, I want to make this point: You can’t learn everything from a book. Or even an ebook. Or even from Mashable.com. As our relationships with our technologies become ever more intimate, remember that some of the best learning re: media/social media/mobile/internet can occur right under our noses. Our modern lives play out in a rainforest that is rich with technology; playing Jane Goodall for a few days and getting in the weeds can really bring to life and add context to all of those statistics and numbers.

Starting tomorrow, we'll be hit with another deluge of iPad related announcements and commentary. As you wade through that, remember this: Steve Jobs allegedly delayed development of the iPad for several years because the experiences (via the larger iTunes ecosystem) were not yet in place. Jobs knew that if he couldn't replace Dad's newspaper, the iPad was just another thing.

We can all learn from this. Social Media is not about the thing (the platform or the device) itself. It is about enabling and improving experiences. I encourage you to get in the weeds and make some observations of your own and to think about towards where those signposts are pointing. Share in the comments!