OFF THE GRID

The Apple Tablet Won’t Save David Carr

Jan 5, 10 | 7:26 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Dear David,

I read your piece (well, most of it) in yesterday’s Times about how the Apple tablet is going to save print. It occurs to me that you may now be the most dedicated voice for old media—a bit William Jennings Bryan and a bit Pollyanna.

“I haven’t been this excited about buying something since I was eight years old and sent away for the tiny seahorses I saw advertised in the back of a comic book,” you say. (Just one more difference between us: I was interested in the glasses in the back of the comic books that let you see through girls’ dresses.)

I hasten to say that being smitten by a machine that does not exist makes you less than a savvy consumer of technology (so often these machines are duds, so often they never materialize at all). Indeed, being the first to buy version 1.0 is often a chump move. But to build your hopes for the salvation of culture as we know it on the promise of a product announcement is positively smoking something.

“The tablet,” you say, “represents an opportunity to renew the romance between printed material and consumer.”

In other words, you want the experience of print to be replicated through a new medium, exactly the thing Marshall McLuhan said doesn’t happen: Rather, a new medium relentlessly creates its own experience and message and, let me add, business model.

The tablet’s magic—which you have not experienced—will “lie in replicating that intimate offline navigation” of the iPhone. Indeed, this not-yet-existent tablet is, you say, an “iPhone on steroids.”

Leaving aside the issue of your prose, let me deal with your loving trust in Apple. It’s become a common condition among media people, the belief that Apple will save us. But how come? Again and again, Apple has shown that it is only interested in what it can control. That it regards content as a low-priced commodity to fill its machines. Your suggestion that Apple and iTunes have saved the music business would be news to anyone in that dying industry stuck now with Apple’s pricing.

If this new machine works, and that is yet an uncertain outcome, it will mean that Apple controls distribution, price, packaging, and experience—not so much saving print, in other words, as owning it (and us).

Your problem, I believe, is not just an uncomplicated view about technology, but a singular—and ever-greater it seems—loyalty you have to your employer, the New York Times. In your view, the future must preserve the Times or it is a lesser, even illegitimate, one. That’s a pretty tortured and conflicted position for somebody writing about what’s happening in the media business. Indeed, your opinions seem always in lock step with the people or developments that you believe will help save your own job.

That’s just not a good way to look at technological development, which tends to alter behavior and shift power and mutate the objects of our affection, and then give someone else a job.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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