June Column Winner

Dark moments in a clean, well-lighted place

JEFF MULLIN, Enid News & Eagle

It was time. I had dwelt in the dark ages long enough.
It was time for me to join millions of my fellow humans and enter the world of the mobile, the connected, the tech-savvy.
It was time for me to obtain a tablet.
Granted, when I was first confronted by the possibility of obtaining a tablet, my first question was, "Big Chief or aspirin?"
For those of you too young to remember, the Big Chief tablet was a writing notebook utilized by generations of young Americans. And aspirin you know, you take it when you get a headache.
Which is exactly what I had when I contemplated purchasing a computer tablet. I didn't know an iPad from a mattress pad. Even the name iPad sounds vaguely like something you'd wear in the wake of an ocular injury. I just knew I wanted one, and I was not alone.
This year. For the first time, there is a greater demand for tablets than there is for laptops, according to CNN Money. Experts from DC, a technology research group, say they expect about 41.9 million more tablets than laptops to be shipped this year.
By 2015, the number of tablets shipped are expected to surpass all PCs — laptops and desktops.
I decided I had to have a tablet. Tablets are light, portable, powerful, fast and besides, you can download apps for them. I have very little idea what that means, but it sounds cool. Since I've always been a Mac guy rather than a PC guy, there was no question where I would go for my new toy, er, vital piece of computing equipment — the Apple Store.
So there we were, my bride and I, sauntering into the Apple Store in Oklahoma City's Penn Square Mall. Upon entering we immediately skewed the age demographic of those inside a notch or two upward.
Apple Stores are rather like Ernest Hemingway's "Clean, Well-Lighted Place," open, bright and airy, awash in the latest must-have gadgets.
In Hemingway's classic short story, two waiters judge an old, deaf man sitting drinking brandy in their cafe. Scholars say Hemingway uses the old man's deafness as a symbol of the isolation from the rest of the world, a condition imposed upon him by his advanced age.
As my bride and I walked into the Apple Store, I could relate. Looking at all the callow, well-scrubbed faces surrounding me, I felt like I'd mistakenly wandered into a senior prom.
Presently we were greeted by an assistant manager, an impossibly young, earnest fellow whose name I didn't quite catch. He asked how he could help us. His expression said he thought we had merely become lost looking for the food court. But when told we were interested in an iPad, his face brightened.
He turned us over to a girl even younger than he. She was an iPad specialist, who could answer my every question. I didn't even know enough about the thing to ask intelligent questions, a fact I attempted to hide from her, without much success. No matter, she seemed cheerily content to point out the device's various features.
So I decided to buy one of the things, plus a case. Instead of leading me to a cash register, she whipped out an iPhone and punched in some numbers.
Immediately one appeared, as if by magic. She then swiped my credit card through a device attached to the phone. That's all it took.
Then she asked if I would like help setting up my iPad. I jumped at the offer. Lord knows I need all the help I can get.
She turned me over to another puerile fellow who couldn't have been old enough to drive. He was the setup assistant, and he was already engaged with a 40ish woman trying to master her own iPad.
"I'll be with you in a moment sir," said the young fellow. "Why don't you go ahead and turn your new iPad on?"
I hadn't even taken the darn thing out of the box yet.
That was no easy feat in itself, since the container was shrouded in plastic. As I struggled to open the box I saw the young man shoot me a look. I swear I saw pity in his eyes.
Finally I freed the device from its cardboard carton and held it proudly in my hands. In a moment of panic I realized I had no clue how to bring the thing to life. I turned it over. No on-off switch on the back. On one end there is an indented circle. I pushed it, nothing. I tried it again. Again, nothing. I tapped the screen. Zippo. So there I stood, turning the thing over in my hands like a Neanderthal encountering a Big Mac.
At once, the young man turned his attention from the woman, who was trying to download a cookbook or some such, and indicated a small, elongated black button on one end of the thing. He pushed it and the device sprang to life. I nearly cried. Gently, calmly, in a tone one would use with an especially slow child, he walked me through setting up my new iPad.
After a time he helped me put the thing into its carton, then a shopping bag, and bid me adieu. I had more questions than before, but at least I knew how to turn it on.
Since I've gotten it home I've learned the iPad is a great piece of technology. I don't know a fraction of the things it will do, but I can use it for email and to surf the Internet. And it makes a really cool paperweight.

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