Rather than marvel at how cool Google’s Project Glass is, it’s perhaps more interesting to imagine the potential impact of this technology on society. We can then take advantage of Google’s outreach efforts in the design process to mold the future as it is created.
Think first of how smart phones have changed the way we live on a day to day basis. Ten years ago, before I had a cell phone, I would call a friend to schedule a time to meet at a specific place. I would then wait at the arranged location until he or she showed up. When my parents bought me a cell phone five years ago, moving through social space and physical space became easier. I would call a friend before driving to her house, and instead of ringing the doorbell and suffering an awkward interaction with her father, I could just text her, “Hey, come outside” when I arrived.
At this point, though, we still only checked our email on computers and would prepare travel routes on Google Maps before leaving the home. By integrating these functions, smart phones went one step further in mobilizing our ability to navigate social and physical space. Today, it is common to make plans with friends at the last minute or to simply show up at their location using the Find My Friends app. Everyday, I leave my house with no idea how to get to where I’m going; my smart phone tells me.
Now take it one step further: complete integration of social space and physical space with experiential reality. Every friends’ face is a voice command away, and no preparation is required to navigate a foreign city. Relevant information pops up as we move through life. Communication is instant. All knowledge is accessible at all times: just google what you see in front of you. Our eyes are called the “windows to the soul” because they are essentially the choke-point for the intersection of mind of physical surroundings. Google Glass will merge physical reality with digital reality, removing the obstacles of physical space and connecting us in a way never before possible.
This brand of science-fiction-turned-reality is all ponies and sunshine. This kind of technology will increase human productivity, for sure, but it will also separate us. Do you ever find it rude when someone is typing away on a smart phone while you are talking to them? Imagine having no idea that someone who you are speaking with is viewing your most embarrassing photos on Facebook through their glasses.
By creating separate personal spheres of existence at each intersection of mind and machine, this technology can create rifts in interpersonal communication. It is common now at universities for students to bring laptops to class, and teachers welcome this as a note-taking necessity and as part of an interactive learning process. But I know from experience that the vast majority of students’ class time is spent on social media sites or mindlessly browsing the web.
As is probably the case with all new digital technologies, Google Glass offers the opportunity both for enhancing productivity and encouraging distraction. It’s a brave new world.