Of Magic Beans and Tablet Myopia

Here’s a tip. Whenever you hear reports about how a new product or business model will allegedly “revolutionize” an industry while simultaneously preserving its previous context and practices, you are entering the realm of magic beans—the stuff of fantastical, contradictory bullshit—and your faculties of skeptical inquiry should be clicking into overdrive. The two effects described are, by nature, antithetical.

And yet that’s exactly what we’ve been told in much of the coverage surrounding last weekend’s launch of the iPad. Report after report, sporting quotes from media industry insiders about how this device might allow them to do exactly what they were doing before, albeit on an LCD. Recreate print layouts on screen. Reconstruct payment models of old.

While Steve Jobs & Company have given every indication their interest is in tinkering with a new computing platform, I’d say a solid two-thirds of the coverage I’ve seen/read/heard has instead focused on this other notion. That of the iPad as Old Media Savior, regardless of the fact that’s never been a talking point put forth by Apple. It’s a dead horse news outlets simply won’t stop flogging, and has crowded out a lot of smarter, more insightful coverage. Where’d this idea come from, and why is it getting so much play?

First, head on over to The Atlantic and check out Lane Wallace’s The Bias of Veteran Journalists. It’s a plainspoken exploration (that may or may not have been inspired by this particular news event). Then couple Wallace’s analysis with the industry backstory and you have something of an answer. It’s hardly satisfying, but there it is. The people charged with covering these events are the selfsame ones participating daily in an industry under withering fire. This informs their viewpoint before they even step into the room, and predisposes them to sometimes connecting the dots to where they don’t necessarily go—to solutions they themselves have been searching for, but no one else intended.