by Peter Osnos
Last April, when the iPad was released, I placed it on my dresser next to the iPod, Kindle, and Blackberry Bold 9000, across the room from my desktop computer. My unexpected thought was whether I really needed all this stuff, especially since, only five years ago, I made it through the day with a Treo (e-mail, but few other frills), a laptop for travel, piles of books I intended to read, and a large stack of CDs, plus a radio, which is still the first thing that gets turned on in the early morning for NPR. It wasn’t long before the iPad found its place. I became a huge fan of Pandora, Internet radio that is like having a second iPod, and was a regular visitor to iBooks. I now have nineteen apps, many of which are merely duplicates of print subscriptions I already had, including the Wall Street Journal and the Economist.
Like so many millions of us, I have succumbed to the gadgetry that, on reflection, really are just add-ons to what I have had for years: a television loaded with cable channels, a half-dozen telephones scattered around the house, bookshelves and magazine racks, and the computer, which is a gateway to infinite communication and information.
Lately, as I prepared each week to write about the media issues that are the mainstay of these pieces, I realized that I had become vaguely uncomfortable managing all this accumulated equipment and simultaneously had fallen out of phase with the most popular of the social networking breakthroughs—Facebook and Twitter, in particular. Of course, much of this is generational. Stories about teenagers sending thousands of text messages a month are merely the descendents of complaints about time their parents spent chattering on the telephone. All of the hottest business uses of social networks and the Internet have, we are reminded constantly, co-opted the print and television advertising that had supported the mightiest of enterprises for decades, all of which are now scrambling to stay in the fray.