Young people and the Tablet PC


As I said in a previous post, I have been looking at the HP TouchSmart TX2 series convertible tablets for my daughter, who starts university next month. Well, this weekend I pulled the trigger and bought one, so that we can evaluate it (we have 14 days to return it) and so I can help her learn to use it. I plan on doing a review of some sort of it over then next little while, but in this post, I want to talk about an observation I made this weekend as my daughter (and one of my sons, as well) learns to use the Tablet – and the differences in how I work versus how they work.

I grew up writing things. I took notes on paper. I wrote reports and essays on paper. If I wanted to write to someone, I wrote a letter. Very rarely, I would write a document on a typewriter, but I was such a poor typist that it was always very painful. Even now (or before I had a tablet) I did most of my brainstorming, architecting, and thinking on paper, or on a whiteboard. So, I always wanted a computer that would let me work the way I like to work. Freeform. Scribbling. Making notes. Drawing diagrams. And the Tablet PC does just that – but better, because it is permanent, searchable, share-able, etc.

On to my kids. My kids have done very little handwriting – and have does less the older they get. They actually do not write well in cursive at all (there never seemed to be much focus on it in the schools they attended in Alberta or here in New Brunswick). They have done everything on computers and other electronic devices. Most of their communication has been via IM, and more recently by text messaging. Most of their school work has been done on computers. Yes, they take notes on paper, but even that they do not do well. Luckily, they often get electronic access to course notes.

This leads to an interesting question. I have always thought about the barriers to adoption of Tablet PC technologies in terms of my generation – people who grew up using pen and paper for a significant part of their lives. I still believe that these people present a significant barrier – because they are old enough to be resistive to new ways of doing things, and many of them are so thoroughly brainwashed with the idea that keyboard and mouse are the ultimate computer interface that it is hard to convince them that there could be a better way – much the way it was (and still is) hard to convince command-line folks that there is any other way.

At the other end of the spectrum is the younger generation – anyone under 25 or 30. They are largely receptive to new technologies, and to new ways of interacting. Unfortunately, many of them have spent little of their lives using pen and paper, and so a pen-based Tablet PC does not feel natural to them.

So the Tablet PC faces a conundrum. On the one hand, the group of people who are comfortable with pen and paper are too resistive to change to adopt an “electronic pen and paper” solution. On the other hand, the group which is receptive to new technologies has no interest in pen and paper at all – real or electronic.

Makes me wonder if the naysayers are right – maybe there really is no market for a pen-based, handwriting-centric platform.   

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