Breaking with Technicity: The iPad is the Nintendo Wii of the Computer World

Apple introduced its iPad to mixed reactions: It's not capable of multi-tasking, lacks Flash support, and has no camera. It was derided as a blown-up iPod touch. The enthusiasm that has surrounded other Apple launches was lacking. I believe one of the main reasons for this is the iPad's break with the dominant technicity of computers.

Technicity is that "aspect of identity expressed through the subject’s relationship with technology. Particular tastes and their associated cultural networks have always been marked by particular technologies, e.g., rockers with motorbikes and mods with scooters" (Dovey & Kennedy, 2006).

Technicities associated with the consumption and manipulation of digital technologies have become key characteristics of the preferred subject of the twenty-first century, which in turn means the marginalization of other kinds of technicity.

Particular kinds of skill with particular kinds of technology are privileged in the developed world. They were mainly born in a male environment, laboratories, the MIT Model Railroad Club, etc., and influenced by such popular myths as that of the "hacker".

Accordingly, for a long time we associated computers with white males. Sure we moved on, but there's still a particular skill set attached to it. It's the ideal of being able to control the technology, to browse the net while uploading photos and chatting on an instant messenger.

"The ‘idealized modern subject’ has always been marked by an enthusiastic acceptance of their connection with machines—for instance, as a … gadget consumer. The contemporary version of this ideal subject is the digitally competent producer/consumer whose ‘technicity’ plays a key role in formations of taste and lifestyle" (Dovey & Kennedy).

The iPad, however, breaks with this form of "technicity". It is not the site for the production of a culturally valued technicity. Instead, it is the kind of device you would buy your grandma or your elderly parents.

It is very easy and intuitively to handle, photos can be flicked by your fingers—something 2-year-olds as well as 80-year-olds understand. There is no distracting multi-tasking, no parallel processes which burden the user. You do not have to hook it up to the 'net through a modem, but can get online with 3G. It does not get any easier than that.

Here a form of dominant technicity is challenged. The result of this threat of cultural capital is a lack of enthusiasm, ridicule or simply disinterest. The reactions would definitely be harsher if Apple and its other "cool" products did not simultaneously embody the pinnacle of preferred technicity. The Macbook and iPhones—these are what the modern person just have to have.

The thing is: all this happened before—with Nintendo's Wii. The Wii likewise broke with certain notions of technicity. Games have been produced by very particular kinds of people who have developed very particular cultures and tastes which command a disproportionate amount of "cultural space". This resulted in contents and marketing strategies which did not appeal to large demographics such as women or ethnic minorities.

Instead, the ideal gamer was white and male. Along came the Wii. Its Wiimote made gaming much more accessible. Suddenly your mum was playing tennis or a work out game. Nursing homes had Wii bowling competitions.

However, the hardcore crowd hated it. There were too many casual titles and seemingly unfulfilled promises. This was not the kind of gaming traditional gamers were used to, now their hobby was shared by a much larger demographic. But it was not shared on their terms.

It is doubtful that the iPad will ever be as successful as the Wii. However, if there is one thing to learn from Nintendo, it is that it pays to break with dominant technicities. By making it easier to access technology you will offend people, but you will win enough fans to make more than up for it.