Our iPads, Ourselves

Dumb thoughts about obsolescence, both planned and unplanned

Apparently I’m firmly in the phase of my life where I get sentimental about computers of my past, and the one that’s been on my mind lately is the iPad mini.

That may seem weird, even by the inherently weird standard of getting sentimental about computers, because the whole idea behind the iPad is that the device disappears and puts all the focus on the content. But the form factor of the mini just got everything right. I remember seeing its initial announcement and thinking the whole idea was absurd: too big to be as pocketable as a phone, too small to be as practical as a full-size tablet. But then I went to a Best Buy, picked one up, and said, “okay, now I get it.”1No one at the store seemed all that fazed by my sudden announcement; I guess people at Best Buy are used to strangers having sudden epiphanies about gadgets.

I’ve “upgraded” to a bigger iPad, which is a lot more useful for the things I use an iPad for, but the mini is just ineffably more satisfying to hold. It’s also the form factor that feels most like living in the future. The larger ones might provoke thoughts like “I could draw masterpieces on this!” or “I could write a movie on this” or “I could watch a bunch of YouTube videos I’ve downloaded for a long plane flight,” but holding the iPad mini makes you2Okay, just me think, “I could scan the atmosphere for alien particulate matter with this!”

Last night, I dug my old iPad mini out of its resting place, found a lightning cable to plug it in, and quickly felt a pang of guilt. This is a device that had been perfectly happy in whatever Valhalla beloved computers are rewarded with after their short lifetimes of usefulness, and I’d cruelly yanked it away from the light, into the cold reality of late 2023.

A while back, when I tried something similar by recharging my old Nintendo handhelds, I was surprised at how easily most of them came back to life. They made a pleasant chiming sound and seemed to say, “Hey, welcome back! Let’s play a game!” The iPad mini just showed a dead battery icon before grudgingly stuttering into its home screen, as if to gasp, “Why won’t you let me die?”3The heat pouring off of its right side made it seem even angrier.

I looked it up, and I bought the iPad mini 2 in 2014. I hadn’t realized it’d been almost 10 years! It informed me that 154 app updates were available, and the installed apps were like a snapshot of ages past. Games that were never played, apps that had fallen out of favor and been replaced by newer versions, or ingenious ideas that the creators had simply abandoned. I’d forgotten about a book-in-the-form-of-an-app (remember those?) about Disney animation, which was touting the technological advancements of its newest feature, Frozen.

When I tried to place 2014 in my own lifetime, I couldn’t remember what was going on back then, even though it wasn’t all that long ago. For the record: it was right at the time of my disastrous second stint at Telltale Games, but the more memorable events were going to the British Isles for a wedding, and having parties and events with friends.4I also had pretty sweet sideburns for a while there.

I realized that that was a transition period in my life overall, where I’d stopped dividing up time in terms of projects I was working on and companies I was working for, and started using more personal landmarks like travel and social gatherings.5And my hair. It was the start of a shift to where I stopped thinking about my life in terms of productivity, and more in terms of just plain enjoyment.

By my old standards, that would make it seem like I wasn’t accomplishing as much. But by any really meaningful standard, it meant that I was starting to be able to enjoy all the rewards of hard work, instead of just working hard for the sake of some vague payoff in the future.

And back to using the iPad as metaphor: ten years of gradual improvements. If you read the tech blogs and watch the gadget videos, you could get the sense that the tech industry as a whole, and Apple in particular, has been stagnating. Just churning out variations on black rounded rectangles year after year, with incremental changes instead of revolutionary ones. But I can look at this device I got almost ten years ago, and it almost seems like a product of a different time. Things have gotten so much better since then, without my taking notice.

(To be clear: I do wish that ten years wasn’t “ancient” by modern computer standards. But I also have some stock in Apple, so the capitalist in me is glad they’re regularly selling more stuff).

So this iPad mini is unlikely to be that useful for anything apart from being a time capsule to not-that-long ago. But it also feels more like a kindred spirit: pretty slow and clunky, doesn’t perform as well as it used to, gets overheated with just a little bit of exertion, still mad sexy though.

  • 1
    No one at the store seemed all that fazed by my sudden announcement; I guess people at Best Buy are used to strangers having sudden epiphanies about gadgets.
  • 2
    Okay, just me
  • 3
    The heat pouring off of its right side made it seem even angrier.
  • 4
    I also had pretty sweet sideburns for a while there.
  • 5
    And my hair.

One thought on “Our iPads, Ourselves”

  1. I had a 2, upgraded to the 4, and now have a 6. The iPad mini is delightful, small enough to take it without thinking about the size, but powerful enough and big enough to be productive with.

Comments are closed.