The iPad: It’s all about the designer label

While smoking a cigarette on my back patio early this morning I got to thinking about the iPad (which I do not and will not own) and the cultural cache of designer clothing labels throughout my formative years in high school during the 80s. And keep in mind I grew up in possibly the most materialistic bastion within the most materialistic country on earth: Long Island.

Everyone flaunted their Guess jeans, Timberlands, Capezios, Champion sweatshirts, Ralph Lauren Polo shirts, etc. as they walked down the hallway, all of which immediately signaled an idea of attractiveness—if only through a sense of style under girded by both its cost and wide acceptance. It was conspicuous consumption on shameless parade any given day in my high school, and what I found as a teen is that punk provided me a way out of that insidious logic of self realization that was so directly linked to consumption. Punk music, and just about any art in my experience, provided a means to both question and challenge the dominant logic that thousands of people in my high school ate up like good little mannequins.

And, sadly enough, when I think about the iPad, I can’t help by draw the connection to my experience with designer labels in high school. I think, in some ways, edtech is regressing to the level of a high school hallway/catwalk taken right out of Long Island during the 1980s. Every one is prancing their little iPad around like their brand new Ton Ton sweatshirt, and rather than just trying to be noticed, they are tacking on to that claims that the newest sensation in designer computing will actually change everything forever. Hey, I just read a post tonight that links the iPad with the end of public education—what a depressing thought.

It’s funny how unthinkingly designer labels were accepted as the predominant logic for fashion in the 80s, kinda similar to how unthinkingly designer tech has become the predominant logic for the future of education. The way I see it, wishing the iPad on educational technology is like asking for a slicker BlackBoard. It is the same kind of pay-to-play lockin logic of the LMS, and while it has the open web and I can hear the detractors already, I just wonder how many of your super special apps will work on other platforms? Do all students need to wear the same designer labels? Will we come to see a stratification based on tools rather than standards and open platforms? Probably, but their are always alternatives, that’s what Heavy Metal, Punk, and New Wave provided in the 80s as a way out, and I would like to think we are building those alternative spaces to escape the clamor around designer technology so that we can get on with the open web, and leave designer labels to the tools.

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29 Responses to The iPad: It’s all about the designer label

  1. Hello, Mr. Groom,

    RE: “Hey, i just read a post tonight that links the iPad with the end of public education” –

    On the bright side, it wasn’t a very good post – pretty standard grist for the “tech-will-change-everything-fight-the-new-world-order” mill. I contemplated leaving a comment there, but then I thought of and realized that I didn’t have the time.

    I like your frame of the designer clothes – it helps (for me, anyways) to look at the ways in which the message about these things are perpetuated – it gets down (or devolves) to a selling game, and whenever marketing gets involved, the hype outruns the reality.

    On the bright side, as Colbert demonstrated, iPads can also be used to make salsa. I suspect that iPads are more likely to spark a salsa renaissance before they will catalyze the end of anything.



  2. dave cormier says:

    I like the direct link to the hallway in the eighties. I’d like to push your analogy a little harder.

    Those clothes you refer to (ralph lauren etc…) were actually often of better quality. The material was made of better cotton, is lasted longer etc… The extreme markup on those clothes,however, are the key part of their function inside the society. They were displays of financial power, of the ability to squander resources on ‘quality’ and the social reflection of power from the ability to choose quality.

    With the Ipad, you have something that does reflect a considerable amount of quality (by all accounts, the poor plebs outside of the US haven’t seen many). Indeed, all of apple’s stuff (particularly in the last couple of years) reflects this balance of quality and power consumption. Their stuff ‘feels more solid’. The Ipad is a particularly ingenious comparison to the 1980’s as cannot be seen as a necessary expenditure of resources… no one knows what it’s for… other than like those polo shirts, they have a default purpose the same as others of their kinds. In the Ipad’s case, they allow people to communicate with each other at distance, in ways that can store their information in databases and allows for scales (economic, social) that are difficult or impossible in f2f situations.

    With punk, whether you think of it as nihilistic or radical (radical in the ‘back to the root of things sense’) you have a deconstructive tool powerful enough to see through the haze of the public perceived need for hierarchy. The problem with punk, and where the real lesson is here i think, is that it does so by creating a belonging strong enough to ‘oppose’ the mainstream interpretation. Not convince it.

    I want to convince it without needing that ‘power of belonging’ that ensures your stay on the margins.

    4am jetlagged thoughts for you 🙂

  3. Reverend says:


    I agree, not a very inspired post about the end, but I get a little scared when I hear a lot of what is said in the blogosphere by people I trust be framed as a necessary end to any kind of publicly funded education. On the brighter side, if it does come to pass, we all have better salsa 🙂

    I love your additions to the analogy, and I think the work well in terms of pushing this idea of the designer technology. And while I also hear you on the convince rather than oppose, I wonder if that will even be a possibility. Like the labels, they own the marketing, and despite the millions of voices in the blogosphere, mot of them are nodding yes, and the same kind of situation we’ve had in mass media seems to repeat itself in social media—which suggest some other questions about what this space really changes. I mean look at the social media figures with pwoer and following, Scoble? What would his opinion be of the iPad? Well, probably good so he can have somethign to talk about for the next few otnhs. And I in many ways fall into the dame trap. I should be writing about the art professor at UCSD who is being brought up on criminal charges for actually using the web as a space for civil disobedience:

    But I too am drawn to the iPad debate. So, I suck.

    ll that said, welcome back from Singapore, looked like you and the students had a blast from here.

  4. dave cormier says:

    I’ve talked to several ‘key influencers’ over the years who have suggested to me that they have unspoken agreements with folks that they will only write stuff if they have positive things to say about it. Most people are too integrated into agreements (through funding, conference invites, social connections) with corporate entities to ‘risk’ being critical.

    That sounds bad, but if you’re working on a local outreach project to support literacy in underprivileged schools (fake example) are you really going to risk your funding over being critical of the IPAD? In a sense, this is the true beauty of blogging… there are enough experienced people not connected to the corporate that you can have diversity of opinion.

    The problem that this leads to, is how would (as in this case) a teacher looking for opinions about the ipad sort through the polo shirt wearers, the corporate offiliated, and the honest debate that is actually happening alongside between experienced educators?

    – yes. we had an awesome time. not terrifyingly difficult when you have students like i had at Ngee Ann.

  5. Andre Malan says:

    So if the iPad is Ralph Lauren Polo shirts, is the XO the WallMart brand polo? Cause as far as I can tell, it does all the same stuff…

  6. As someone who has been using a tablet for (prepare to be shocked) two years now, I can only chalk up the latest iPad hype to Apple-eyed fans. My tablet lets me type on a keyboard while seeing the screen. My tablet can run anything on the Internet (including the dreaded Flash applications). My tablet allows me to use a stylus to record lessons for my students, it has (gasp) a hard drive with 220 GB of space. It is very small, lightweight, and portable. It boots quickly and is secured by a fingerprint sensor. I can run just about any program in the world … oh yeah, except for those pesky Apple programs, which only seem to run on Apple products. Funny, the majority of my software will run on Apple’s products.

    The world acts like there have never before been tablets … and yet … there are very functional tablets that have been in use for YEARS. I await the day when Apple claims that they “invented” the tablet. You’re right. They are just capitalizing on the brand. There’s nothing revolutionary about the iPad except for the fact that Apple is using it to lock out anything not-Apple.

  7. Lisa says:

    Jim, I feel like you often set things up as straw men and then use punk to lambaste them. I guess that’s the bava’s prerogative, but I’d love to see some thoughtful engagement in the very real hierarchies perpetuated *by* punk. The “That’s not punk!” border policing is a well known rallying cry to those of us who operated on punk’s margins, who needed our own movement to address those problems. And have you noticed how much flack Riot Grrrl and Queercore get these days, in historical retrospective? Oh, NYU has Kathleen Hanna’s papers–horrors–NOT PUNK! Punk’s border control mechanisms isn’t the point of this particular post exactly, but every movement has its margins, and certain practitioners of punk were just as interested in gatekeeping as a designer boutique.

  8. Great post, since this is something I’ve been chewing on a little bit since the dawn of edupunk right here in these pages.

    Part of the issue to me, it seems, is that everyone wants to belong to some group. In my schooling, the fringe kids were as typeable as the cool kids, and on the other hand, both could, with some analysis, have been broken down into definable subgroups (e.g. lacrosse, soccer, cheerleading for the cool kids; skate punks, arties, neo-mods for the fringe kids).

    Put another way, it all depends on whose ox is being gored. That is, can you really have an honest debate about the merits of the iPad? The fringe kids don’t like it because it’s a designer label, the cool kids like it because it is. @dave’s point is germane here: Those of us working on creating critical distance have to be sane about it and point out the multiplicity of voices on the matter.

    (& anyway, @Rev — have you worked with an iPad yet? You’ve got a pretty flexible mind, so surely there’s a way you could find to make use of hack it. Frinstance, I wish it had been around when my mother’s parents were alive, because maybe it would have been an easy email tool for them. By extension, perhaps it could be hacked into an easy blogging tool for someone with technology anxiety.)

    At the risk of sounding like a scold, a more revolutionary position might be to reduce group-identification by saying of any new tool, “It might be useful, it might not. Do I have time to find out?” Once you have a sense of what a tool can do, you can move on to, “What else is there that does what this tool does? Does anything do it faster, cheaper, easier, user-friendlier?”

    And all of my blather is ignoring that in edtech we all have to do some selling (read: convincing) of some sort. We have to make edtech appealing to those who don’t get it instantly, we have to show the possibilities to those who will take it the next step, we have to promise support to those who want to use it but don’t know how. I *hate* selling.

  9. Peter Naegele says:

    Be careful, rev….least you get labeled an “iPad denier” or skeptic! Just blindly accept the “consensus”….and leave your open wallet on the counter at the Apple store….

    All kidding aside, there could be positive applications of the technology in medical related fields. But, again, the proprietary nature of the technology does limit it.

  10. Andy Rush says:

    Let’s not forget that the brand we’re talking about here is Apple, not iPad. If you want an actual person to blame it’s Steve Jobs, but that is a longer discussion to be had elsewhere. The technological equivalent brand from the 80’s was Sony and the technology du jour was the Walkman. That was the status symbol of the day and in 1980’s dollars about the same price as the iPad. Sony just now is relinquishing the last remnant of its proprietary shackles – Memory Stick. The iPad is a lightening rod. I neither support nor defend it. It’s a device, albeit an interesting one. To say it will revolutionize, or on the other hand kill, education is as silly as it can get. The mere fact that it is being talked about so much makes it important, but for the iPad and not Apple itself to receive the wrath is misplaced.

  11. Reverend says:

    The honest educator won;t fin that here 🙂

    I like the comparison, and in many ways the idea of the designer tech versus the generic tech opens up all sorts of plays on this idea. And one I am interested in is open source as Community Driven Labels, that are accessible, and we can all silkscreen our own logos on them 🙂 Tht to me was always, and remains, the coolest think about an open source design.

    Exactly, the iPad probably makes an existing design much better and user friendly, I’ll give them that, but I don;t see the “hallelujah, praise the lord” that some many do.

    You have to understand that I come from the John Hughes school of social theory. Everything you need to know about 80s high school politics can be found in a John Hughes film, all about white, class-driven angst. I’d love to speak for so many points of view, but as you note the bava prerogative is limited. And now that I am a grad school dropout, i don;t have to feel so bad about that fact 🙂

    All that said, you are right.

    The only issue I have with that is it kinda of makes getting and testing the iPad a foregone conclusion. It becomes assumed we need to get it and test it and develop for it. I would argue that position is in many ways a result of the hype rather than any real sense of ho it may be useful for teaching and learning. it is like we are buying the device to convince ourselves the hype was right, which seems totally ass backwards. And to be fair to me :0, I am really framing the hype more than the actual tool, which I understand via twitter from everyone who has one is AWESOME!!!!

    I’m sure there are many powerful applications of the iPad, I just wish I would learn about them as they emerge, rather than have to be inundated with the abstract idea that they will exist and feel like an entire field needs to stop and drop everything they are doing to tend to them. That is what annoys me.

    So when do you get your little Gucci iPad?

  12. Shawn Miller says:

    I’m not going to directly bash the iPad, since I haven’t given it a fair shake. I do own and love my iPhone…but I’m sure I’d also love an Android phone too.

    My main concern with the ‘iPads revolutionizing education’ line is this whacky idea that education can somehow take place solely within a single technology. I get the same agitated feeling I got a few years ago when a YouTube rep came to Duke and told us that putting videos of lectures on YouTube would basically equal putting an ‘entire course on the internet.’ If an entire course is just a series of pre-written, performed lectures, then let’s record everyone once and we’re done! 🙂

    In the same way, education is more than just the content we give students to read. Even if we make awesome, flashy (okay, but not with ‘Flash’…) multimedia ‘textbooks’ – we’re still not much better off than we were when we were just using textbooks alone. It’s still a convenient, but often inflexible approach to teaching. I don’t mind the idea so much as a tool, or option – it’s just this constant willingness to boil down education (and teaching and learning) to something simple like a ‘lecture’ or a ‘textbook.’ Students need to be doing more (and should expect more) than passive consumption…and I don’t think the answer is necessarily letting them spin a picture or ‘tap start’ a video.

    So – I’ll give the iPad a chance…but I definitely won’t allow it to be heralded as the ‘Second Coming.’ Besides, that’ll really piss Jesus off.

  13. Brian says:

    So, the iPad will drive a stake through the heart of public education once and for all… But from what I read in the Chronicle of Higher Education, that’s what us Edupunks are supposed to want, right?

    New shit keeps coming to light. This is a very complicated case, man. You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-yous. And, uh, lotta strands to keep in my head, man. Lotta strands in old Lamb-er’s head. Luckily I’m adhering to a pretty strict, uh, drug regimen to keep my mind limber.

  14. Fake Fake Fake Steve Jobs says:

    You can kiss my iPad, freak!

  15. Alan Levine says:

    The memories you arouse make me smiled- in high school I could not stand nor would eb caught dead or alive in, any clothes with labels, be them jeans or shirts with alligators on them.

    But I’m not in high school anymore, and like Dave’s comments, I cannot make the same leap across the metaphor. Yeah, if people are waving their iPads just to brag about their status, maybe thats one thing.

    But I am concerned about what feels like an effort to polarize people over a freaking device. You dont like it, fine. I got properly slapped a few weeks ago by Chris Lott (I deserved it) for being elitist in anti-elitist commentary, and it weighs on my position of being open minded.

    But it’s just a hunk of hardware, not an intent. The iPhone was too a limited locked up thing, and some will of course say it still is, but I sure feel like I bend it to my will.

    Its what people can/will do with it that matters, yet since so many are convinced all you will do is gaze at it and shell out money like glass eyed zombies. I don’t see how anyone can know its potential yet- it may be huge, it may be a flash in the pan.

    But I seek to understand it before condemning it.

    And with that, I am cracking my box open. Go ahead and lash out like and acne faced hormone raging teen.

    But remember, Bavam as an advocate of “openness” its not just about licenses and open source and code and black t-shirts- it’s an ** attitude **.

  16. Reverend says:

    I am not an advocate of openness, I am an advocate of bava. We should not conflate the two.

  17. Lisa says:

    That’s always been abundantly clear.

    Why is it that all I can think of is this?

  18. Boone Gorges says:

    Once again, Alan Levine proves that he is the coolest guy on the internet. I was going to post a comment but he said it for me.

  19. Peter Naegele says:


    This is true, there is segway-hype with no data.

    It’s sad because there are other devices with much more functionality and fewer restrictions coming out that won’t receive the press.

  20. Reverend says:

    That video is brilliant! I can’t decide which version of “Waiting Room” I like better.

    Didn’t you retire from edtech? Are you gonna be one of those hanger ons? And for the record, I MADE ALAN LEVINE!

  21. Boone Gorges says:

    My retirement isn’t official for a few weeks. And even when it is, the fact is that I am essential to the field, and to be more specific your life, in a way that transcends my official job title.

  22. Luke says:

    I have to note that this analogy is one of the lamer definitions of punk I’ve seen. I’ve never been a punk or had much interest in the movement, but certainly it was about more than defining oneself against something vapid. IMO, it’s just as stupid to hate a kid for wearing Guess as it is to love a kid for wearing Guess. Perhaps stupider, since I’m a soul hippie and Sly Stone taught us love > hate.

  23. Reverend says:

    Screw you too!
    The Bava, who just happened to make you too.

  24. Reverend says:

    What’s clear to me is that there will be no retirement, which is how it should have been all along. You have no choice now, yu are God’s only man spared by the bava.

  25. Ed Webb says:

    Punk-schmunk: you need some EWF, man,_Wind_&_Fire%22:Let_Me_Talk

    (this comment written on my hard-rockin’ Fujitsu tablet)

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  27. Ben says:

    I think your analogy is pertinent, but I think you conflate your distaste for slavishly following designer labels with a distaste for the device itself.

    Clearly there are those that will buy an iPad for the status or “designer” label, but this is as much a reflection of the buyer as it is of the iPad. And the reflection upon the product and/or seller should only be negative if the product is defective or disagreeable in some way.

    As the owner of an iPad, it *is* a transformative device for certain use cases. The iPad is outstanding for ebooks, web surfing, email, photo viewing and, surprisingly word processing. I would have no hesitation in recommending the iPad Pages application to my parents over something like Microsoft Word. Unbelievably, I think I can type faster on the iPad than I can on my laptop.

    So I disagree with your premise, and I think you state a truism that being a fashion victim is disagreeable.

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