The Lost History of the Tablet – from Athens to the iPad

On October 17, 2011, I had a satirical piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Heckler column. It can no longer be found online. Down with you Archivists! The article was a little nod to the great Steve Jobs who had recently left our Earth. I reproduce the article below from my only surviving newspaper clipping.

All those Apple devotees mourning the loss of their prophet would do well to remember Ecclesiastes 1:9 – “What has been done will be done again – there is nothing new under the sun.”

Apple was not the first to invent tablet technology. The tablet first appeared about 561 BC in Greece, although its processing speed was markedly slower than the modern day iPad. Xenophanes of Colophon inscribed the first draft of his Cosmology on the iTablet 1.2, although it took him two days to erase the tablet and inscribe his second draft.

Heraclitus almost discovered the universal law of gravitation 2000 years before Newton when he dropped the iTablet 1.4 on his left foot. The iTablet 1.5 was almost too heavy for the average philosopher to carry, coming as it did with an extra two bits of ram.

Ancient Greek image man with laptop
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The success of the iTablet came at a price. When Hermias inherited Euboulos’s banking company, he purchased all the patents for the iTablet for an undisclosed amount of drachmas. To increase dividends he outsourced production to Crete, where thousands of workers slaved under the Minotaur.

The iTablet’s legacy was assured when, in 441 BC, Pericles famously decreed that by 431 there would be “an iTablet in every home.”

But the iTablet’s dominance of the market was soon threatened by the emerging Spartan Galaxy X3. Hermias appealed to the Assembly of Citizens, successfully obtaining an injunction preventing importation of this cheap device which slavishly copied the iTablet’s user interface.

The influence of the iTablet cannot be underestimated. Without it, the Ionian Revolt may never have occurred as the people of Ionia would not have had the social media skills to free themselves from their Persian masters. And the Pythagorean Theorem may never have been formulated without the innovative triangulation app.

And let us not forget Socrates: “And as for me, without my iTablet I am nothing.”

The iTablet was ultimately rendered obsolete by papyrus. But not before it had revolutionised antiquity and forever changed the way ordinary Greek citizens relate to their world.

Ovid was often heard to lament, many centuries later, that “there was more refreshment and stimulation from an iTablet, even one of the earliest models, than in all the papyrus scrolls in the Imperial Library.”


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