So after my post yesterday I had loaded my iPad Air with plenty of useful stuff for the D&D 5E game. Although I had all the D&D books along for the ride, the plan was to see if I could set up and use the iPad Air for some of the work. Here is what I discovered:
So yeah, turning on the device and using it creates an attention/focus vacuum that works in direct counterpoint to the social engagement of the table. I can't "multitask" good engagement at the same time as trying to focus on the device. I'd say this is a skill-based thing, but the truth is, we see evidence of this issue constantly. If we could do better at keeping our eye on things around us and on the screen at the same time then no one would ever complain about people looking at their phones in a park, or while driving, or in social circles, etc.
It creates a palpable vacuum that is distinct, and as I tried to use the iPad to look stuff up, track initiative and so forth I felt it immediately. About the only thing it was worth doing was taking notes. The sad truth is, for me, it created a big speed bump in my ability to effectively gamemaster at the physical level. I could see being able to use this as a player, since players have "between turn" time to organize thoughts....the GM really doesn't have that time, you need to have your act together consistently, your attention on at all times and focused.
I haven't given up entirely. It may require practice and there are some apps I have for which I could see lots of handy utility (such as for initiative tracking). But for content look-up? Yeah, unfortunately this old dog found it faster and easier to just pull out the book and flip to the right page. Go figure.