January 31, 2013
A Luddite Academic's iPad Paean
Posted by Usha Rodrigues

OK, so I'm more late-adopter than Luddite, but it makes for a pithier title.  And late-adopter I am--I broke down and bought a smartphone only when my faithful flip-phone's charger died.  And yet I'm here to tell you that the iPad has rocked my innovation-resistant little world.  I offer these thoughts for those few readers out there more retrograde than I.

If you've ever stepped into my office, you'll understand the problem.  Awash in paper, it oscillates between relatively orderly piles of paper on my desk and bookshelves (in the month after my more-or-less annual spring cleaning) and disorderly piles of paper littering every available surface, including the floor.  

I have two main problems. 1) I'm a tactile reader--marking up, pen in hand, is how I process what I read. Reading on a computer screen, even a laptop, is no good for me. 2) I have an irrational fear that "I may need that," hampering my ability to purge the many pieces of paper an academic collects.  I've tried file folders, I've tried binders.  They work in moderation.  But when time is short, the terrible piles accumulate.

Enter the iPad.  Guided by a knowledgeable and kindly colleague, I have used a combination of Dropbox and the GoodReader app to create folders for colloquia, hiring, and various research projects.  Now when I get an electronic something I need to read, I convert it to PDF, save it to Dropbox, sync with the iPad, and voila: I can mark up documents on a screen, and save the markups.  

This may seem like a simple change, but it has revolutionized my working world.  Here are some benefits:

  1.  I no longer download, print, read, and mark up the same article 4 different times because I keep misplacing it.
  2.  I print a lot less, assuaging my environmental guilt and reducing paper clutter exponentially.  
  3. If you sync regularly your notes are preserved on Dropbox and available to you wherever you go.
  4. Indeed, your research is available wherever you go.  No more kicking yourself as you frantically prepare in your hotel room the night before your next morning's talk because you left behind the Seminal Article that makes the point you want to refer to.  Not that I ever do this.  But still.
  5. If you're at home with a crappy printer for the semester, you can quickly download and mark up law review edits or articles that friends send to you.  Before you'd have to drive by the office or make do at home.
  6. Travel benefit #1: All the conference papers fit easily on an iPad.  No paper cuts.  
  7. Travel benefit #2: You can't read said conference papers until you reach cruising altitude.  
  8. Travel benefit #3: If someone emails the paper after you've left, or refers you to an article while you're at the conference, you can access it and read it while on the road.
  9. Travel benefit #4: Airport security? Keep it in your carry-on, baby. This ain't no laptop.

I'm sure I'm not using one-tenth of the iPad's capabilities.  To take but one example, despite repeated efforts I can't seem to get my iTunes password to work, so my iPad is registered to my husband and I get all of his apps.  If I want one, I have to ask him to get it. Even still, it's technology that's changed the way I work.

Productivity, Technology | Bookmark

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