The Apple Tablet and the Joy of Anticipation

One of the great modern pastimes — speculating and rumormongering about the Apple Tablet — will come to an end today when Steve Jobs finally unveils his messiah device. It's a game few are ready to stop playing.

Our little Apple Tablet scavenger hunt has come up mostly empty-handed. Steve Jobs is gonna drop some knowledge on us today, and we're as in the dark (mostly) as we were weeks ago. And you know what? One of the main things we've learned from this little exercise is that the people who are most interested in today's announcement are also the least interested to learn anything in advance.

Here was one of the most fascinating — and downright poignant — responses our contest elicited, from a reader in India:

I want to make a kind request to you please — to call your scavenger hunt off.

We all know why we are so intensely trying to find out the littlest morsel of information about the Apple Tablet and are hardly interested in any other company's slate device - only because Apple will create history with such a device.

I want to emphasize on the fact that Apple puts a lot of effort to building keynotes, which, for many people like myself, are like blockbuster movies. We never had the fortune of being at a live one, so we try to make the best of it being streamed online. Like you remember at the 2007 iPhone keynote, every other moment there was surprise. People had never seen anything quite like it before. And all of it coming from Steve Jobs made it a historical day in technology.

It is my earnest request to you, please let Apple do it again. We all want to know what the Tablet is going to be like. Your bounty offer may (and probably will) instigate people who want to sell their souls. I'm not blaming you or criticizing you. We don't want a few details or pictures to leak out before the official announcement. There's just a few more days left till Jan 27. Please let Steve Jobs introduce it the Apple way. Pretty please. It will be a lot more fun !

Would this guy have clicked through if we had received a real picture? Most definitely. Has he probably clicked on all of the hundreds of mocked up photos and videos? Almost certainly. But the fact that those were fakes was all part of the fun. Sure it's all a bit cynical in its consumerist frenzy, but the Apple's big, heavy-handed reveals are also a good time — a bit of mystery, of (imagined) corporate intrigue, of envisioning suddenly-available outer space future products that were previously just the stuff of science fiction classics like Freejack and Demolition Man. (Classics, I tell you!) Remember the iPhone? When ol' Jobsy carted that thing out a few years ago it sufficiently blew most of our brain bones, and wasn't that kind of fun. I mean, rather than knowing all its details ahead of time?

Like blockbuster movies! That's sort of sweet in an irredeemably nerdy way, isn't it? There is something about the grandeur and anticipation of one of these keynote magic shows. Yes it's all nasty and capitalistic and cold and inhuman, but a little bit of excitement never hurt anyone, especially in these penurious times, when a Cosmo centerfold has assumed the regency and rules us all from his throne made of the bones of the New York Yankees.

That doesn't mean every scrap of purported "truth" about Apple's mystery tablet can't drive tons of pageviews (I mean, uniques!). But the real kick of feverish Lost guessing and obsessive Tablet rumoring is the pure joy of speculation with gleeful abandon. Here's the root truth of it all: No one actually wants to be proven right, because then it would all be over and we'd just return to our lives, the answer never actually being as big as we'd hoped, nay, dreamed.

It's a childish thing — this entity we call imagination — just turned a bit hard and practical by adulthood. No longer do we imagine whole unknown worlds existing in wardrobes or cupboards, but we can be fascinated with the possibilities of that ABC show starring the dude from Party of Five and the potentiality that Penny's computerbook from Inspector Gadget might sort of be real. The minute those youthful fantasies are quelled and quieted by cold hard facts, well... the whole activity loses a bit of its sparkle.

It's the kind of thing the internet can ruin too often. Take another small pleasure: movie previews. Remember movie previews? Oftentimes they were the best part of the whole moviegoing experience. What fresh new hell awaited us come springtime? What joys would poet-scholar John Woo soon be foisting upon us? It was nice to see some new things, things you'd never heard of!, before settling into your seat and getting progressively more bored by your feature presentation. They made movies seem big, eventful, singular. If you wanted to see what was coming up, you had to go sit in the dark and wait for them to show you. But now! Now you've got internet web sites all over the highway that'll show you a teaser sneak trailer for a movie that won't be out until Armistice Day 2014. They've got previews for everything, those internet people. And it ruins all the fun.

Sure it's still sort of exciting when they pop up on the online, but it ruins some of the formality, it just spreads and bleeds the thing out so everyone can see it. Movie previews aren't as controlled and specific anymore. By the time they're up on the flickering screen there, I've already seen them three times over. It's boring, it's vaguely sad — to have basically ended this tiny pleasure I enjoyed as a kid. I don't know why I do it to myself. And yet I do.

Though I suppose the whole ruined movie trailers thing isn't the same as a spoiler. A spoiler would be, like... someone telling me about Lost, I guess. Well, I haven't spent five sweaty years emotionally invested in just what the fuck the iTablet or iPad or whatever is all about, but it's still the same giddy joy of anticipation. In the end, what do we get out of either thing? Nothing, really. We're either $700 poorer or we're in six years of emotional debt to friends and family for being unbearably annoying about What Is In the Hatch. But screw it, we gotta take fun where we can get it and I appreciate it not being squashed.

So thank you Apple robot security guards for taking your whirring steel pincer claws and strangling that lab tech who was trying to smuggle an iNewspaper out of the office. That entrepreneurial fellow (he'd have been a hundred-thousandaire!) didn't die in vain. A not-so-well-kept secret is kept so for a few more hours, which will give me (and all of youuu) some dull sort of pleasure in an otherwise bleak and windswept wintry state of the union. Surprises are good — almost always better than knowing — even when it's about electronic products I don't understand and can't afford. Maybe even especially then.