My Year of Living Digitally

Digital nesting dolls: MacBook Pro, MacBook, iPad (in black case, nuzzling Kindle), Kindle, iPhone.

Here’s a list of the computer stuff I had last week: MacBook Pro, MacBook, iPad, and iPhone. Plus, the black sheep of the Mac family: Kindle. The MacBook Pro is my “desktop” computer; it sits on my desk in my home office. The MacBook is my travel laptop. The Kindle is my submissions reader. I love flicking through requested fulls on it, as I tend to skim more when I read on the computer, and the ereader focuses my attention.

In April of this year, I let myself get swept up in the iPad tsunami that rushed through the media. It didn’t help that my boyfriend is a Mac fanatic and wanted to get one first thing. So we went and stood in line on the first day, having reserved our iPads online the previous week, and participated in what can only be described as a circus of consumerism.

When we walked into the echo-filled glass lobby of the Apple store in the Meatpacking district in Manhattan, all of the dozens of gathered Apple employees cheered. I felt like a rock star. The only thing missing was paparazzi as I made my way to the third floor. About $700 later, I had my iPad, my case, and a sincere “Congratulations!” from an Apple employee. They wouldn’t let us leave until they’d shown us exactly how excited they were to have our money. Some were giving out handshakes, others high-fives. It was a rush!

But it didn’t last. The only thing I wanted from my iPad was a MacBook replacement. The iPad weighs 1.5 pounds, about two pounds less than the laptop, and slips easily into a purse. More battery life means I don’t always have to lug around the charger.

While iPad fit the bill in terms of its portability, it let me down in all other areas. I edit manuscripts using Word and its Track Changes function. A lot of other agents and most editors do this. Pages, the word processor on the iPad, doesn’t have Track Changes or a similar function (yet…Pages for other Mac platforms has Track Changes, but I haven’t heard wind of an update like this for iPad). So I can’t bring manuscripts to edit when I travel with iPad. And the backlit display, even though I turned the brightness down, hurt my eyes after long periods, so I couldn’t use my iPad for submissions, either.

The other issue was the keyboard. When I took the iPad with me to editor meetings, I would then have to spend hours, in some cases, correcting typos and getting the notes in order afterward. Every third word or so would be illegible, and sometimes I lost whole swaths of my notes just because I was trying to type quickly…and looking at my hands the entire time!

The iPad was good for presentations. I’d have my talks loaded on it and would scan through them at the flick of a finger as I spoke. It was light enough to hold in one hand or prop up on a podium. I also loaded my clients’ artwork on it and showed art to editors that way during meetings.

But, even though it was useful in two small areas, it still wasn’t doing everything I wanted. So what did I do? For most trips, I brought my iPad (for presentations and art demos), my Kindle (to read submissions on the matte e-ink screen), and my MacBook (to edit client manuscripts with Track Changes).

Instead of getting a gadget that replaced two others (ereader and laptop), I wound up using three gadgets. In wanting to take a step forward and be more efficient, I’d ended up taking a step back. And it’s not like travel is a small part of my life — I’m flying every single weekend from October to December. The same with meetings — it’s a rare week if I don’t have anything scheduled with an editor.

So last week, when the new MacBook Air debuted (less than an inch thick, a full keyboard, long battery life!), I finally did what I should’ve done a lot earlier. I sold my iPad and my MacBook, and defrayed over half of the Air’s cost. So after an interesting six month experiment, I’m back to two: my Air for traveling and meetings, and my Kindle for reading requested material. I figure that I can put my talks on my Kindle and scroll through them that way, and that I can give editors an art show on my Air.

I can’t say I’m pleased with the iPad, overall. And I really dislike apps. I think most apps, unless you need them for a specific work function, embody exactly what I experienced by adding the iPad to my life: they make things more complicated instead of more simple. I like to make grocery lists on the backs of index cards. Sure, there’s an app for that, but do I really need to take every single aspect of my life to the digital realm?

I don’t mean to sound hopelessly old-fashioned. I grew up in the Silicon Valley and, in fact, a lot of the people telling me that I need these apps and widgets in my life are friends and former colleagues. But I don’t care. Nor do I need a gadget that’s, basically, one giant store made to sell me things I don’t need. Let the app developers make their millions (I hope, by licensing my clients’ books!), but leave me my analog grocery list.

I could’ve probably held on to the iPad in order to track how ebooks, book-related apps, and book-related games are developing, but it’d be collecting dust for a while that way. In my opinion, the iPad is ahead of its time and trying to usher in a technological revolution that most people (publishers) aren’t ready for, and some people (me) just don’t want. The revolution is coming, of course, and I’m staying on top of it because agents in this new digital world have to and their clients need them to, but I’ve decided that the iPad and all of its bells and whistles really doesn’t belong in my life.

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  1. Carmella Van Vleet’s avatar

    I noticed that you were using an iPad when you came to Columbus. I meant to ask you how you like it and now I know! My husband gave me an iPad for my birthday, about six months ago. I didn’t ask for one (I suspect he was the one who really wanted it) but I’ve enjoyed it. It’s great for playing games and watching videos but, for the reasons you stated, it’s not great for writing or editing. Which is disappointing. I do some reading on it but the glare issue makes that’s difficult outdoors. I love the battery life and have managed not to go crazy with apps. I’m drooling over the MacBook Air. I’ll be interested to hear how you like that in the long run.

  2. Chelsey Blair’s avatar

    I have a Macbook, an iPhone and an iPad. Yesterday I added an Air to ruin the trifecta. As a writer with a disability–who can’t carry a lot of stuff around– I needed a laptop that I could put in my bag and not find too heavy.

    The iPad I use for books, and for reading PDFs for class, I like being able to mark them up without printing them. Also my grad school made my huge literary theory book digital for me, so it goes on there too.

    My iPhone gets used for the apps, and googlemaps. Oh. And it’s a phone. So it’s all in what you need, really

  3. Franziska Green’s avatar

    Aha! Fascinating and so useful to me. My husband is hankering to buy my an iPad even though I don’t need one. This just adds to my resolve. An e-reader, yes, but an e-reader with internet access, tonnes of apps and a keyboard that doesn’t work like my MacBook keyboard? Nope.

    I may go for one of the new coloured e-readers as I’d like to look at picture books that way. (Plus it’d be a great way to entertain my daughter on the long flights we take back to the UK.)

    Thanks for this post, Mary!

  4. Jackie Yeager’s avatar

    Great Post, Mary. It’s interesting to hear your take on all of this. So nice to know that although we need to embrace new technology, we don’t need to get take a ride down every digital highway! Thanks for your perspective. :)

  5. Jackie Yeager’s avatar

    Oops… slippery fingers. Sorry for the typo!

  6. Chris J. Behrens’s avatar

    I do my best to keep up with it all. Fortunately, I have 2 kids growing up with all this technology. I’ve looked to them for assistance many times! There so quick with the texting and grasping all the new techy. stuff. It amazes me. I love pages and use it all the time. I really like the templates it has too. As far as new apple products, I like the looks of the new shuffle or wait, is that the new nano that looks like a shuffle. It has FM radio! Hoping my friend, Mr. Claus, can bring it this year. That’s all I want, besides a book deal!!

  7. Sheila JG’s avatar

    This is my experience, too. I tried out an index card app for writers and the whole time I’m thinking – wouldn’t real index cards be easier?

    Do you watch The Office? Funny scene where, at a play, one character asks the other what time it is and he turns on his iPad and flashes a giant clock at her. That’s what the iPad is to me – a flashy fun way to do things you could already do less techy.

    But it is gorgeous.

  8. @jmartinlibrary’s avatar

    Let’s see…at the Martin house, we’ve got:

    2 old iPhone 3s
    2 new iPhone 4s
    1 old iMac
    1 Mac book
    2 old nanos
    1 iTouch
    1 iPad
    1 AppleTV

    And a partridge in a pear tree!

  9. Kerry’s avatar

    when you have babies you might change your mind about the iPad. keeps the little critters busy for HOURS. and you always have a movie you can show them when you’re at the doctor’s office and you need them to be still already so you can get your strep test.

  10. Athena Hernandez’s avatar

    Welcome to the MacBook Air revolution! I have the first iteration and am trying to “hand it down” to my husband so that I can upgrade to the new version. Hadn’t thought about selling it, but now I might. It is the digital love of my life, but I could be lured into an affair with an iPad! Thanks for another great post.

  11. Beth Hull’s avatar

    This post comes at a great time. I’ve been debating which to get – a laptop or an iPad. I wasn’t impressed with the word-processing and editing capabilities of the iPad either, and your opinion reinforces my decision that for now, a laptop is the way to go. Thanks!

  12. Lynn Rush’s avatar

    I’m a Mac girl…but was never sold on the iPad. I thought it would be fun, but not enough to get it. LOL.

    The AIR on the other hand. I would LOVE that. It’s so light…I have the MacBook Pro, it’s heavy…my computer bag does weigh a ton. . . But, I can’t complain too much…the MacBook Pro has been good to me. :-)

  13. heather’s avatar

    This is incredibly helpful information, Mary. I haven’t gotten an e-reader yet, but I’ve been thinking it’d be helpful for student papers and essays…and what you’re saying makes me lean toward the Kindle.

  14. Erica’s avatar

    Great post, and dead-on! The iPad is really neat, but (in my house) we realized that it was my husband who could most benefit from one. They’re great for presentations, as you mentioned, Mary. And it would replace our dinosaur HP laptop, giving the hubby a fast/light way to check email and watch stupid (I mean funny) videos in his recliner. He could read on it or play games when he travels, too. So, if we get one, it will be “his.” They just aren’t made for word processing/editing. I love my MacBook Pro. Would love the Air, but needed a disk drive for long plane rides with the kids. Wonderful post.

  15. Ishta’s avatar

    Oh, THANK YOU! Thank you for this down-to-Earth, realistic, wonderful post. No, we don’t need to take every aspect of our lives to the digital realm. I’m relieved not to be the only person who feels that way. (And thank you for the review of your various gadgets – it will help me when I need to replace either my netbook or my laptop.)

  16. Amy’s avatar

    I LOVE LOVE the iPad!

    I travel a lot, too, but not the air travel for at least several days at a time that you do. My travel is the “ok, to the rec center for another hour class” for one of the kids variety, and I am NOT going to pack up my laptop for something like that, no matter the frequency. But I can throw my iPad in my purse and catch up on blogs while I’m waiting, or continue my first draft in the iA Writer app. (First drafts ONLY. I use the Track Changes feature, too and have not found a suitable substitute for the iPad.) It’s helped me to reclaim some of that “lost time” in my day.

    But I totally see where it’s just not right for you. To each his/her own, eh?

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