The iPad and “private media spaces”

One of the interesting things that is happening in the world of media, I believe, is the arrival of what I call private media spaces.

Let me explain what I mean.

I grew up at a time when a single TV was a bit of a luxury. Not everyone had one. Not everyone had a colour TV. And the box took pride of place in a room of the house in which it could be seen by all the members of a family. We all gathered around to watch and all we watched was free to air TV, because home VCRs were 10 years away from being affordable.

This arrangement remains prevalent today, but as just one of several media spaces centred around other screens. Sometimes the new screens – think media rooms, second TVs in second family spaces – remain shared spaces. Others are private media spaces for a single person. Kids have PCs and/or TVs in their bedrooms. TVs have arrived in grownups’ bedrooms. Or we can curl up with a laptop. Often, we make a shared media space into a private space by using a mobile device for private media while watching TV!

I think proliferation of media spaces is notable because it means that instead of media consumption being a communal experience, it is (increasingly) becoming a private experience (there’s a whole bunch of stuff to consider around the demise of “appointment TV” that goes with this, but that’s for another post).

At present, I believe that computing devices don’t lend themselves to easily facilitating a private media space. Laptops are large, hot, have poor battery lives, take ages to boot, insist you update their anti-virus sofwtare in the middle of a movie, aren’t easy to use when reclining and have all those stupid buttons (the keyboard) which scream “not for entertainment”. Desktop PCs have “work chairs” in front of them, hardly the relaxing furniture best-suited to taking in a movie. Desktop PCs aren’t much fun to use with headphones.

An iPhone seems a candidate for creating private media spaces and as it happens I’ve extensive experience of the device in that role. I often wake up very early in the morning and need something to do that is very quiet, as my home has a central corridor and turning on the TV or typing on a PC are both no-nos as they would wake the rest of the family. The iPhone almost works for pre-dawn video, but not quite as the screen is too small to allow comfortable viewing. I also get frustrated because the iPhone is not useful for work-related tasks other than email (and it is not very good for that).

Enter iPad, which I think makes it easier to create and sustain a private media space than an iPhone, while also being a bit easier to use than an iPhone for other tasks. It’s far from perfect, becaue downloaded content is not sorted, but it looks a lot more “movie-friendly” than other devices I mention. I also think that touch without a keyboard to confuse matters works better, as the interface is less confusing (and there’s a rant coming on touch on the dekstop). I therefore think it fits into the emerging niche for convenient, elegant devices that create comfortable private media spaces.

Having said all that, I don’t like the idea of private media spaces. I dread my kids being holed up in their bedroom experiencing media alone, because I think it erodes an important part of family life. So it may be a while before I buy an iPad.

I also think that private media spaces will become more common, but that central home storage will rise at the same time. Right now, iTunes’ performance on a NAS is spotty. That may need to change.

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3 thoughts on “The iPad and “private media spaces”

  1. Lots of good insight in that post, thanks. I’m writing this comment on my iPhone while half-watch the tennis on the plasma with my wife, so she’s in a public media space and I’m half in that and half in my private media space (which is why I think sne doesn’t like me doing it.)

    My ageing eyes find it hard to read what I’m typing because Safari won’t render this form in landscape so I would love to be able to do this on an iPad.

    I’ve written about the iPad’s potential as a social
    media device in this post but this concept of private media spaces I didn’t cover. You’re right though, I’ve been observing their growing popularity with interest; how people (such as my wife) get annoyed in the company of someone who’s in a private media space, how people can have trouble moderating the time they spend in their space, and how sometimes it’s hard to snap out of the space and back to the real world.

    Before iPads, playstations, DSs and iPods there were TVs, Walkman and of course, good books. All had the power to isolate the user from their surroundings.

    As parents we definitely have a duty to teach our kids how to moderate their consumption but that’s easier if we know how to do it ourselves and for many of us, we weren’t taught it. We are the generation baby-sat by TV, who can still recite the lyrics of Gilligans Island or whole slabs of dialogue from The Goodies.

    I use OSX’s parental controls to, among other things, limit the times and durations of our son’s iMac use. But there’s no similar control over his iPod Touch and presumably there won’t be on the ipad either, though I see there’s support for multiple user profiles, so here’s hoping.

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful comment Alan.
    Your use of an iPhone in front of television is an interesting phenomenon unto itself. A couple of years ago, I did some copywriting for MSN and they had identified the trend of overlapping media use. That encounter had a sequel of sorts this week when, during an interview, it was stated to me that the kinds of sites visited during overlapping media use have changed: a couple of years ago it was IMDB or Wikipedia for reference, today it is facebook for realtime discussion.
    Either way, it raises an interesting question as we sometimes opt out of a shared media space into private media space.
    The author Neal Stephenson likes the term “continuous partial attention,” which he borrowed from a Microsoft person. I think the terms describes simultaneous occupation of shared and private media spaces quite nicely.

  3. “Having said all that, I don’t like the idea of private media spaces.”

    I worry that companies like Apple seem to be hell-bent on pushing alienation at us (and our kids). What can be more alienating than an iPod? Ah yes, the iPad.

    In my darkest moments I fear autism is a mutation of people better prepared for the Apple-dominated future than those of us old fogies who prefer being social to social networking.

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