Previously in the first article of the series, Toby Ruckert, Founder of Unified Inbox, talks about his experiences with Google Glass and how it’s changing the world. Now, Ruckert speculates on what may happen in the future as wearable technology gets more widespread.
A scary new world?
One of the worrisome moments you might experience when you use Google Glass for the first time is how much data is already contained in your Google login. Though no different than using your Google account on your Android device, logging into Google Glass very bluntly shows you the power Google has in and over your life today already. Amazing as this is, it is equally scary. Luckily, Google gives Glass users a remote-wiping capability which I tested and which works fine.
That said, it remains both an illusion of privacy as well as an island of openness. The data still exists on all your other devices and the cloud whilst for instance at the same time you’re unable to receive all your messages in one single place or view. Google is making a great effort combining SMS, Gmail and Hangouts, but with Glass being so intrusive on your attention level and the ability to interrupt you more severely than any smartphone ever could, I simply cannot imagine that a certain unification with regard to apps, notifications, alerts and messaging at least will have to occur for Glass and other wearable technology to make us more – and not less – productive.
The worry many have that a user of Google Glass will invade others peoples privacy is something that I cannot follow after using it practically. While certain features like “blinking with the eye to take a picture” certainly sound like spyware, they’re actually really cool, practical and not that different than hiding your smartphone while taking a picture of somebody else. In the light of the needed transparency, Google could simply add a red or green light towards the front of the Glass which is “on” if either a picture or a video is taken, but otherwise off. I wonder whether people could have more peace of mind and Glass would be more easily acceptable in society that way.
Society will – either way – be polarized by this new world. There will be people pushing the boundaries towards more use of technology in our lives while others will advocate against it. History shows that with enough user benefit there will be enough positive value perceived by individuals that the majority of people tend to easily overlook the disadvantages and that such benefits, especially if in form of convenience, always come with a price. The question then will be: what will governments do?
The opinions that may exist on embracing technology too much or too little, aren’t easily moved on either side. In fact, they’re opposite poles which in the worst case could one day even lead to an uprise within our society. The new enemy therefore may be called neither be left nor right nor bottom nor up, but looked upon simply with (in)tolerance of how much we see ourselves merging with technology or potentially how technology is merging with us. Science-fiction series such as Almost Human, Intelligence or the remake of Battlestar Galactica have been debating this on public TV for some time now.
But what is the difference to what we can do with a smartphone today? Technically it may not appear to be that much. Usability wise however it’s a big difference when you don’t have to stare on a display and theoretically have your hands free while using it. Convenience is a factor: with Glass, Google has created a device where the input-output process is so much intertwined and connected to the human mind via the eyes, that the quote “The Eyes are the window to your soul” gets a very wide scope. I’m not gonna argue that we’re opening our souls for technology to enter just yet. Let’s just say that with Google Glass it is much harder to track and less obvious for bystanders to see what we’re doing with the device when compared to a smartphone. Let’s also note that the memory of technology is far more replicable and permanent than our conscious human brains appear to be.
One thing I want to be very clear about: despite raising some points in criticism during this article, I sincerely commend Google for having created Glass: it is truly innovative and we need more real innovation from big companies that are willing enough to take them to market instead of resting on their laurels.
I believe Google was also super smart in its marketing to simply refer to the term “Glass” and turn it into a product name. I’m actively wondering how other manufacturers of similar devices will be able to beat the simplicity and generic use of the term. Every once in a while a company has the opportunity to own a space based on the core value the product brand conveys and Google is doing just that with Glass. I found it incredibly hard writing this essay and putting a “Google” in front of every “Glass”. Simply referring to “Glass” and knowing it’s from Google just comes so naturally!
So what can you do with Glass and where is the link to other wearable technologies?
Despite there not being many apps to choose from at this point, one can already pick up on the Glasses usefulness. Apart from standard stuff like taking pictures or videos and sending them around, one quickly discovers that for instance getting driving directions is a vastly different (more natural and overall better) experience than doing the same with a smartphone or via the GPS navigation system in your car. It’s simply awesome to become one with the way while being one with the data which is showing you the directions at the same time.
I can certainly see in-numerous useful applications for the device in nearly every aspect of our daily lives. The ability to record, analyze/process and provide individualized, contextual data back to the user almost in real-time is – without exaggeration – phenomenal. For good or for worse, our learning (and the definition of it) will fundamentally (have to) change if this type of technology becomes normal and (somewhat) accepted in society. We will be presented with the opportunity to deal with vast amounts of information in a short time frame. Whether that enables us to make better decisions, remains to be seen.
One of the big drawbacks of Google Glass is the pitiful battery lifetime and the need to still pair it with your smartphone. Eventually such glasses will have to stand on their own two feet, and be independent of smartphones, especially if they truly want to make a difference. Other wearable technology, for instance a vibration or weight/pressure based chargers integrated into our shoes, could also solve the battery problem, provided there is a universal energy transmitter which would allow the charging of Google Glasses wirelessly – or would you want to run cables from the top to the bottom of your body?
This is also what brings me to the biggest of my personal concerns. Our lives have become flooded with radiation. Cell towers, mobile phones, TV and radio waves, w-lan, Bluetooth and many more. I’m not saying that there is a permanent influence which such radiation will have on us as a life form on this planet. But, if there is an influence, we’re only going to find out after generations. One thing is for sure: if we’d see those frequencies which we have put in the world and which have not been there in this quantity before us, the world looks very different today than it did just a hundred years ago.
For myself I can only say that after using Glass for ten minutes, I tend to get pains on the right side of my head. The battery which is integrated at the far right end of the frame also becomes quite hot, exhibiting a very physical difference of temperature in the head region. There are good chances therefore that there is not only a difference in temperature and radiation, but also in blood flow and attention (only the right eye is having the interaction with Glass, but not the left eye) with regard to our brain waves and activity.
Looking at the (quite unknown) influences which a technology such as Glass or other wearable devices impose on us today already, makes me wonder if we’re even remotely aware of what future we’re creating at the moment or how the poet Goethe put it in his “Der Zauberlehrling”: Spirits that I’ve cited // My commands ignore. - might well happen one day.
I do worry of the day when this may or may not happen but for the moment I am simply curious as to how it all plays out and the Google Glass device gave me an opportunity to force myself to look further ahead and challenge my thinking in this regard. I can only recommend the reader to do the same. Ultimately it prompted the question in me for the future of all connected, wearable technology as well as its potential human implants: at which point is a human a part of a machine and when is a machine part of a human?
I have no answer, but would like to close with an old story by the ancient Chinese philosopher Chuang-Tzu, narrated in the 4th century B.C.:
As Tzu-Gung was traveling through the regions north of the river Han, he saw an old man working in his vegetable garden. He had dug an irrigation ditch. The man would descend into a well, fetch up a vessel of water in his arms and pour it out into the ditch. While his efforts were tremendous the results appeared to be very meager.
Tzu-Gung said. “There is a way whereby you can irrigate a hundred ditches in one day, and whereby you can do much with little effort. Would you not like to hear of it?”
Then the gardener stood up, looked at him and said, “And what would that be?”
Tzu-Gung replied, “You take a wooden lever, weighted at the back and light in front. In this way you can bring up water so quickly that it just gushes out. This is called a draw- well.”
Then anger rose up in the old man’s face and he said, “I have heard my teacher say that whoever uses machines does all his work like a machine. He who does his work like a machine grows a heart like a machine, and he who carries the heart of a machine in his breast loses his simplicity. He who has lost his simplicity becomes unsure in the strivings of his soul. Uncertainty in the strivings of the soul is something which does not agree with honest sense. It is not that I do not know of such things; I am ashamed to use them.”
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