In Evanston (Illinois, greater Chicago, basically NorthWestern University and the Lake) for a project Bamboo meeting. Like all my visits to the States the whole experience is slightly weird and disorienting. If Australia is Life on Mars, America is most definitely a separate reality.
Australia is of course Life on Mars because it is a dry desert of a continent and far away from anywhere in terms of timezones and distance. While South East Asia is our nearest neighbour, we’re still talking about an eight or nine hour flight to one of the big south east Asian cities from the south east corner of Australia. The south east being where most of the people live – draw a line from slightly west of Adelaide to slightly north of Brisbane and you’ve got eighty five percent of the population in the triangle. Most of these eighty five percent live in three agglomerations – SEQ, aka Brisbane and the Gold Coast, the NSW sprawl from Newcastle down through Sydney to Woolongong, and the sprawl of Melbourne, the Mornington Peninsula and Geelong. Adelaide has more taste than to sprawl though I’m sure it would secretly like to.
So from the south east europe is twenty two hours, and the West coast of America a rather more modest fourteen. That fourteen hours of course gets you to LA, and LA is not America. The California/Oregon/Washington strip is separated from next really populous area by mountains prairie and pasture – and Chicago is that populous area, some four hours east of LA. Factor in immigration, plane changes and the general stuffing around that accompanies plane travel and basically you can say getting to Chicago is as tedious as getting to Europe.
When I got here I didn’t care. I was over travel – twenty five hours in cabs, airports and aircraft had removed any joy or excitement that was inherent in travel. And that’s not because it had been a bad trip. Admittedly going skiing the day before and falling and bruising my backside wasn’t in retrospect the best preparation for sitting in a plane, but United were as pleasant as ever, I just wish they’d put individual video screens like everyone else has on trans oceanic flights, and immigration at LA were again stunningly efficient and courteous, the connections worked, the cab I’d prebooked was ready when I got to Chicago, but even so, when I got to the hotel all I wanted was room service, a shower and sleep.
The next morning I was up early in an attempt to reset my body clock. After breakfast I walked round the town just to stretch my legs, go to the supermarket and pick up some teabags and the rest. And they had bookstores. And as we know I like bookstores. Market Fresh books was everything a second had bookstore should be. Interesting fascinating books, and slightly kooky in that the sold the books by the kilo (or being America, the pound). They weighed your books, and charged you by weight, not by what someone thought the book was worth.
And then to Barnes and Noble, where I played with a colour Nook and the new basic Nook – Nook being B&N’s e-reader. The new basic nook was smaller, lighter, and every bit as legible as my now venerable Cool-er and would certainly make a great lightweight reader.
The colour Nook was something else. before I saw it I’d doubted the value of colour in an e-reader, text after all is black and white, and things like screen sharpness and contrast are what counts.
All true, but reading the New York times on a colour nook changed my mind. Clear bright legible screen, and the moment one steps out side the appliance, it does just one thing model – colour definitely adds value. And of course, as an Android based device, the colour Nook is more open and can definitely do more than one thing. And of course, the other thing I did in B&N was look at books and not buy them, instead photographing their covers so that I can buy them later – and amazingly no one gave a damn and just acted like it was just normal to do this. Maybe everyone does, and it’s just me who thinks it’s odd.
The other thing I noticed about Evanston and the US in general is just how many people had iPads. Not tablets, iPads, even though the Samsung Galaxy and the upcoming HP tablet is being advertised heavily. Be it all the free wi-fi around or what but people are out there just using them, using them to watch movies, read books, magazines, tweet, email and the rest. In Australia, you’d call the iPad significant for its impact. In America you’d call it game changing.
So, Evanston. On the basis of the first few hours, unexpectedly pleasant.