To iPad Or Not To iPad, That Is The Question
You and I both know how this story will end even before we read it.
But a recent story about a restaurant that now hands you an iPad instead of a wine list has continued to fuel my internal debate. As reported by the Associated Press:
Chicago Cut partnered with a technology firm to create a custom app that looks like a virtual wine cellar. It lists the restaurant’s more than 750 wines, includes photos of bottles on wooden shelves and allows for searches based on variety, price or region of origin. Diners can also access information about a wine’s taste, composition and a Google map of the vineyard.
“Eventually the bottle is going to spin around and you can read the back label,” said Chicago Cut managing partner Matt Moore. In the future, programmers could add video or let customers e-mail themselves the name of a new favorite wine.
For me, it boils down to two key points, one social, the other McLuhan-istic.
At first blush, this iPad as wine list idea seemed really nifty. All that information at my fingertips, presented in such a playful, interactive way. An iPad doesn’t necessarily have to replace a sommelier or knowledgeable waiter, but it seems to me that it would stifle social interaction. The information on the iPad might serve to stimulate conversation at the table, but by definition, it replaces a conversation that would have started with a live human being, the server.
Food and wine in restaurants are social lubricants, a means to an end (“making connections”) rather than the end in and of themselves. Anything that gets in the way of conversation and closeness in this environment can’t be a good thing.
We also choose restaurants to be part of something bigger, the same reason we choose any brand. It’s true that technology or “coolness” could be important parts of a restaurant’s personality, but “cool” in this case seems to be more “cold” than anything else.
Which brings me to the McLuhan’s discussion of “hot” and “cold” media. There is nothing “hotter” than talking and reading when it comes to media. The jury is out whether or not there are significant differences in how we absorb and process information from the printed page as opposed to a screen. That is, if the reader focuses solely on the material itself, will comprehension and retention vary?
However, one thing is certain. Distractions abound with screens. The temptation to check email, the news, sports scores, the weather or whatever is always present. This need not be the case on an iPad wine list app, but certainly the restaurant will be trying to capture information from the customer, at least an email address, and the temptation to promote will be hard to resist.
So at some level, the perception of being marketed to instead of served will be communicated.
An experiment, of sorts, along these lines recently failed. Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari and Chuck E. Cheese, opened a restaurant called uWink, which he intended to build into a chain. There were no waiters, just touch screens on the bar and each table top where customers ordered their food (dropped off by servers) and played games. Big crowds at the outset, but it didn’t work over time. Having visited the restaurant, I would venture that the concept missed because the technology and novelty it employed worked more to isolate customers than to promote interaction between them.
My iPad dilemma must be typical. Free of “stuff” that weighs me down, I’d travel lighter and reduce my environmental footprint. All my newspapers and books at my fingertips whenever I wanted them. Not to mention the “fun” and “cool” factors.
But I’m old school and don’t deal well with multi-tasking and distractions. I like the feel of the newspaper or the book in my hands. I like leafing through newspapers and magazines randomly to see what’s there, as opposed to clicking purposefully on specific stories. And I like having real books on my shelves at home.
This is surely a generational issue. We know where it’s going. As with everything else, it’s adapt and embrace now or do it later. I can tell there’s an impulse purchase in my future…