The iPad Has Broken My Brain; OS X Lion Will Help Fix It

This past weekend, I went on a trip and did the unthinkable — I didn’t turn on my computer. Not even once. Okay, that’s sort of misleading. While I didn’t turn on my computer, I did use my iPad. Extensively. But I still fully expected to get the urge to turn on my computer as well. And I never did.

That itself isn’t that remarkable; I’m sure a lot of iPad users have experienced the same thing by now. What is a little remarkable it is that I’m a heavy, heavy computer user. As in pretty much every hour I’m awake. And I used to think the iPad could never fully break me of that. Future generations? Sure. But not me. Now I’m starting to sway the other way.

On a deeper level, I’m realizing something else: the iPad (and iPhone) is changing the fundamentals of computing for me.

Since I’ve been back from my trip, I’ve started using my traditional computers extensively again because I have to for work. (There’s still no denying that a laptop or desktop are far better for typing than an iPad.) But I’m finding myself continually confused when I go to use the trackpad. I swipe my fingers up expecting a page to scroll down and yet it doesn’t.

I’m trying to interact with a Mac as if it’s an iPad.

It’s actually pretty frustrating. I keep doing it. It’s like my brain is locked in. I’m someone who has had an iPad for a year, but I’ve never used it for days in a row without touching a computer like I just did this weekend. And it seems to have re-wired my brain.

The good news is that help is on the way. OS X Lion, the latest version of Apple’s Mac operating system launching this summer, actually reverses the scrolling mechanism. This means that when you swipe two fingers up on a long web page, it goes down, and vice versa. Again, it’s like the iPad/iPhone, not the way it has been on the Mac.

Among developers who are testing OS X Lion right now, this switch is driving some of them absolutely nuts (though it apparently is changeable in the settings). That’s understandable, it’s changing something we’ve all gotten used to over the years. It’s also may seem a bit odd because you’re not directly manipulating a screen as you are on the iPad/iPhone.

I’m in the opposite camp. I think Apple is genius for making this switch. Why? Because eventually most people that use Macs will have come to the systems by way of iOS devices. And they’ll be going through exactly what I’m going through now — only it will be much worse.

OS X Lion represents a transition. We’re moving from the “point & click” to the “flick & swipe”, as I’ve previously written about. But I’m not sure I realized just how big of a change some of these interactions would be at the time. They’re big and important because computing as we know it is changing.

And this matters not only to the next generations of computer users, but also to current computers users. There will be backlash to some of these changes — hell, there already has been. As much as people love the idea of future technology, they hate change. And that’s especially true if something is so ingrained that it requires a re-wiring of your brain.

But if my experience is any proof, that re-wiring is a lot simpler than it would seem to be. It’s not just the trackpad issue, I also find myself constantly trying to touch my MacBook screen after using the iPad for an extended period of time. These are more natural methods of computing. It’s the way it should be. It’s the way it should have always been. The technology just wasn’t there yet.

Now it is.

[photo: flickr/open exhibits]