>Okay, Apple’s new iPad is a slick and sexy piece of hardware. What commuter wouldn’t want to look all Minority Report swishing their fingers across the front page of The New York Times, watching those lovely high resolution graphics respond in an instant? And perhaps it really will open the floodgates for the ebook revolution that always seems to be just round the corner. But, when all’s said and done, it’s a device built for consuming. What I want to know is, can I use it to write a novel?
I just have doubts about that virtual keyboard, you see. Could I really type for any length of time on it? Yes, I know you can get a bolt-on keyboard but then I might as well use a laptop. I guess the only way to be sure is to try one out.
The more I think about it, the more I appreciate how important the physicality of writing is. When I was a kid I had an ancient mechanical typewriter with a vicious carriage return. I wrote my first novel longhand with a ballpoint pen, then typed it up on an electronic typewriter with a 6-line LCD display and the ability to carry an entire chapter in its memory at once! Nowadays I write and edit on a laptop. In one sense, it doesn’t matter what medium you use. But in another, it’s absolutely critical.
It’s kinesthetics, I think. Something about the way all your senses join up. The act of writing is intimately connected to the medium you use to perform it. Writing longhand is different to composing on a keyboard. I’ve never dictated stories into a microphone, but I’m guessing that’s different again. But here’s the thing: they’re all still physical. Sensual, actually. Maybe one day we’ll have computers that read your thoughts, so that writers can sit in darkened rooms with their eyes closed, just spinning yarns. Maybe that’s the ideal. Maybe the medium gets in the way. But I don’t think so.
Kinesthetics tells us that some people learn language through touch and mannipulation. They spell better when they’re moving plastic letters around on a table than when they try to wield a pen. Synesthia tells us that, for some people, sensory inputs can get crossed – they hear smells, taste numbers, see sounds. I was once taught sculpture by a tutor who used to strip off his shirt and use his whole upper body to work the clay. At first, stuff like that makes you titter. Then you get it. The act of creation is as sensual and physical as an athletic workout – and as exhausting.
So I’m curious about the iPad. At least those virtual keys won’t wear out. And my clumsy fingers won’t wear the print off. Now which key’s the question mark again …£$^&* … ah, there it is???????????? aah, damn key’s got stuckkkkkkk