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Google Glass: my one fear

Garrett Heath on how technology can remove us from the present

When Nintendo bundled the Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt games with their console in the 80s, my brother and I begged and pleaded our parents to get it. Our constant requests were rebuked, but we held out for one last hope: our grandparents were coming down to take care of us while mom and dad were on vacation. The plan worked, Mario of course saved the Princess and countless hours were spent with the Zapper light gun a centimeter from the television screen in efforts to get the top score.

When our parents returned, they had a pair of video game obsessed children wanting to be in front of a screen instead of outside. The Nintendo put us in a stupor that Saturday morning cartoons couldn’t even rival. Requests from our parents to come to dinner, clean our room, do yard work or talk about our day had to be repeated two or three times. The Nintendo turned us into two little zombies where 8-bit graphics obfuscated reality.

While many people may fear the privacy aspects of Google Glass, I am more afraid of Glass turning our society into a bunch of pre-pubescent, Metroid obsessed, mouth open drooling children who are completely zoned out all the time. Hell, it’s happening right now, and we haven’t even entered into the era of “constant computing,” the place where data and information are being constantly collected and accessible on demand without having to fish out a device. Wearable computers, such as Glass and the highly rumored Apple iWatch, are ushering us into this future.

Glass promises to liberate us from having to search and seek out devices to capture the moment. As an Industrial Engineer, I can understand the amount of time that is wasted annually simply from the action of reaching in your pocket for the smartphone and turning it on. This is why UPS has a specific policy for delivery drivers to ensure that their keys are accessible. There is no doubt that Glass will help a mother snap a photo when her son is doing something adorable (even though her hands are full) or even deliver a time saving detour to a driver well before he is aware of an accident.

Neo and Trinity

However, in spite of many of the benefits of constant computing, I am fearful of how Glass will remove many technophiles in our society from the present. Our world run over with a bunch of Neos and Trinitys plugged into the matrix: bodies will be in front of you, but minds are completely immersed in their own digital world, unable to have a conversation of any meaningful depth.

Of course, this already happens today – recently a friend traveled to meet with an influential technophile. They spent several days together, driving, talking and attending meetings. In fact, the technophile even invited my friend to the house to share wine. Less than a month later, my friend ran into this person at SXSW and the person didn’t even recognise them. I expect that this type of interaction will be even more common in the future.

The next meeting or lunch you have with colleagues, take a look around at how many times that people pull out their device to check the status of something: work, friends, email, basketball scores, Twitter stream, etc. While they are doing so, keep talking and just observe their face; you will see this mix of a blank expression with intense concentration that is eerily familiar to my brother’s expression when he was trying to get away from the snakes in that one dungeon of Zelda. As Glass hits the mainstream, expect to see this expression a little more often behind the silhouette of eyeglass frames.

Don’t get me wrong, not only am I a fan of Glass (and can’t wait to get my hands on one), I also recognise that this train is barreling full speed ahead and there is nothing that anyone can do to stop it. As a society we simply have to recognise our limitations and addictions, remembering that as much as we love technology and crave the newest gadgets, there is still a wonderful world to explore just beyond your screen. When we were children, our mom would take away the Nintendo and kick us outside to enjoy the world around us. Moving forward, we are the ones responsible to use technology and limit the amount of time that the technology uses us.

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