Tablets, in their various forms, are the most recent addition to the ever-expanding family of computer-like devices. Of course they really are computers, many times more powerful than even the “super-computers” of decades past, Turing complete and contemporarily-softwared. But the simple difference of their form — accurately approximated as little more than a direct cross between a smart phone and a laptop — is enough to have induced a great deal of speculation as to the behaviors they might induce. They might have even actually induced the behaviors themselves, if not some totally unpredicted ones as well. But rather than simply speculate, we wanted to find out as best we could what they really were doing.

There were two significant parts to the thought that inspired this curiosity. One was that the form of the tablets would be what was driving whatever changes there were, and so an investigation of the HCI behind them would be necessary to understand the larger trend. The other was that, whatever this difference was, it would be changing people’s exposures to certain types of information. If the tablet is different, it means it’s better at some things, and worse at others, meaning the people who use them will get more exposure to the better-handled things, and less to the worse-handled ones.

And this is where the ethics come in; information is a fundamental necessity, and so access to it is fundamentally an ethical concern. People can only act on what they know, whether their actions be concerned with finding better health advice, or reading blogs that advocate violence. So we set out to understand how tablet-like devices — iPads, Kindles, e-readers of all stripes and more — are affecting, and might affect in the future, what people know.