Apple has done it again! They have created an ad that makes you think about technology in a whole, new way. Don't get me wrong. we've seen the pencil trick before, but never to this effect. Hiding things behind pencils is a way of demonstrating how thin it is. While it is true that the pencil is used as a visual prank to show how thin the iPad Air is, thinness and lightness of the device was not really the point. It is that bigger, more important point that I wish to address.

It’s an extremely simple tool, but also extremely powerful. It can be used to start a poem, or, finish a symphony. It has transformed the way we work, learn, create, share. It’s used to illustrate things, solve things, and, think of new things. It’s used by scientists and artists, scholars and students. It’s been to classrooms, boardrooms, expeditions, even to space. And we can’t wait to see where you'll take it next. Introducing the thinner, lighter, more powerful iPad Air.

The voiceover from the commercial tosses out the fact that it is thinner, lighter, and more powerful, as an afterthought. The juxtaposition of the pencil and the iPad is what’s important. During all but the last few seconds of the commercial, the pencil is what is in view. The iPad gets almost no screen time. All that is said in the commercial, could be said of the pencil. For many, the iPad, and by extension, the iPhone, has become the new pencil. Everything we used to do with a pencil, we now do with the iPad, with the added bonus that the iPad is better at math.

There is a more subtile point that might escape the casual viewer. It is not merely that the iPad is the new pencil. Rather, while technology advances, human pursuits remain the same. Calling this the information age is little more than arrogant presumption. This is no more or less the information age than is was 100,000 years ago. Fundamentally, humans have not changed with regards to what they want out of life. The only, radical changes have been in the tools we use to pursue our goals.

If a new age is to be declared in the fashion of the old, it should rightfully be called the silicon age. And if "silicon" is too broad, then we may refer to this age as the iPad age. It is not the iPad age because of any particular thing we are doing. Rather, it is due to the iPad being the tool on which we are doing it. 

It is somewhat artificial to say we have gone from stone to iron, agricultural to industrial to information. Do we not still use stone in our everyday lives? Do we not still eat? Were the cavemen not industrious, or uninterested in obtaining and using information? Of course not. I contend that human kind has always been about the business of creating, sharing, and utilizing information to their best advantage. The tools change and become more efficient, but the goals remain the same.

The best tools are the ones that are most refined for the jobs we want to do, not the tools that attempt to force us into doing different things. And what is it that humans want to do? We have an indomitable will to create. We have a drive to learn. As social creatures, we have a natural impulse to share. Finally, we have no choice but to make use of the best information we have at the time. Every component of every personal computing device must be focused on these things. There is no device in the world more focused on these things than the iPad.

Every creative impulse is satisfied by the iPad. Movies, music, photos, haikus, create them, edit them, share them,  consume them. From soup to nuts, the video being discussed could have been created entirely on an iPad, and you wouldn't know the difference. Of course, you do not need an iPad to do these things. But the iPad is a tool that was made for such. 

I finish off almost every creative day with a bit of consumption. Between Netflix, Hulu +, and every network offering shows on demand, the iPad is perfect for those lean-back experiences. If you would rather wind down with a spot of reading, you can grab a bestseller from the iBooks Store, or a magazine from NewStand, or a comic from just about anywhere. If you are not a fan of Apple's home brewed options, everyone with content of almost any kind, has a dedicated app or web experience designed for the iPad. Choose your source of entertainment and go nuts. You don't need an iPad for entertainment. But you won't find a better way to consume it.

When you are in the mood to learn something, the iPad is an excellent tool. Before writing this paragraph, I summoned Siri on the iPad next to me, and asked it to search Wikipedia for a rather obscure topic. It gave me the synopsis without leaving Siri. Wanting to view the entire article, I touched it, and it opened in Safari. Not wanting to be distracted by the hideous layout of Wikipedia, I touched the Reader button, and was presented with a large print, easy to read layout of the article. Wanting to take it a step further, I selected the article and had the iPad read it aloud to me. I was just about to branch into further topics when I remembered I was writing this piece.

Of course, Wikipedia is not your only option for learning on the iPad. You can get everything from live news broadcasts, to textbooks, to the Reading Rainbow. You can learn anything from foreign languages, to cooking the perfect soufflé. If you want a more formal education without the student loans and entrance exams, there is simply no better education resource on the planet than iTunes U. Yes, people have been learning things long before the iPad. But it has never been easier and more fun to learn than it is in the iPad age.

There is no faster way to go from information creation, consumption, and learning, to information sharing than the iPad. From the time you see or do something interesting on your iPad, to the time you share it on Facebook, Twitter, email, or instant message, is no more than two clicks. That goes for books, videos, podcasts, photos, web pages, and just about everything else you can think of. Sure, I can read a print book, or watch something on TV. But there, the experience stays. Doing the same thing on my iPad opens up an easy and compelling way to share it with a broader community. 

The iPad, like many technologies, is not meant to be an end unto itself. You do not iPad for the sake of iPadding. You use your iPad so that you can cook a better meal, fix that leak, learn that song, get that poem written down that's been inside you for years. You iPad to, once and for all, learn the spelling and definition of that word, finish that book you started back in college, and draft that grant request standing between you and your 501-C3 finally getting off the ground. You use your iPad as a modern tool to help you live your unique, but ordinary life. It is the same life that was lived by the first man and woman to build the first straw hut, and wish, beneath the stars, that their offspring might have a brighter future. The only thing that has changed is the tools we use to reach our goals.

You can, with varying degrees of pain, accomplish all of these things with a Windows PC, a Surface, a nameless, Android tablet, a Kindle Fire, or even a Blackberry Playbook, assuming you can still find one. You can also travel from one coast to the other on foot. It may be doable, but it is not an appealing prospect. Like cross-country travel, it is best done with the tool that was built for the job.

The pen, and by extension, the pencil, is mightier than the sword. In my life, the iPad is mightier than the pen. Though anecdotal, I'm sure I am not alone when I say that I couldn't put my hand on a pencil right now, but I am never more than a few steps away from an iPad. 

David Johnson

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