With the world of technology exploding, sci-fi and real life have begun to blur together.
The newest fantasy-turned reality comes to us in the form of Google Glass, a computer headpiece which allows for hands-free operation of its camera and video, GPS, messaging, and countless other features designed to make life more hassle-free than ever. It sounds like a dream come true — the possibilities are dizzying. But in the end, attaching computers to our eyes might not be such a liberating concept after all.
On the one hand, if I were given Google Glass as a gift (hint hint), I wouldn’t hesitate to use it. As an amateur photographer, I can’t count the number of times I’ve wished for built-in cameras in my eyes so I could capture those fleeting, spontaneous moments — the vistas that open up for a split second from the window of a moving train; a deer poised for a moment before bounding through the trees; a genuine laugh at a good joke. Wearable technology offers an enticing solution for all the times I’m too lazy to haul around my DSLR, or for when I’m just not quick enough to grab the camera and set up the perfect shot.
For consumers, the allure of wearable technology may be in the hands-free video possibilities, the voice-activated language translator, or the ability to keep the screen in sight and access information without having to glance away from the road, a ski slope, or a sporting event. Google Glass promises revolutionary ease and utility for a long list of applications. It can keep you from getting lost; it can help you communicate; it can help you make a decision when you need crucial information — fast. And in the way of artistic freedom for taking pictures or recording video, it’s as revolutionary as listening to music through ear buds when you’re used to taking a boom box on your morning run.
Google Glass definitely makes multitasking a lot easier, and it could be extremely beneficial in the right circumstances, but I can think of many situations in which having a screen before my eyes would be a bad idea.
Personally, I can only focus on one thing at a time (and sometimes even focusing on that one thing is a challenge). I don’t care if the screen is transparent or if it’s meant to feel like an extension of my own face; I wouldn’t feel comfortable using a computer headpiece while driving or carrying out any other potentially hazardous task. Using Google Glass may not require looking away from what’s ahead, but it does compromise its wearer's focus, which could lead to dire consequences.
The element of distraction also poses an issue in non-hazardous situations. Even without wearable computers, technology abuse has manifested itself into our culture. I’m talking about overuse for both entertainment (video games, etc.) and communication (social media, texting, etc.). I have friends and family members who spend hours each day with their eyes plastered to a screen, playing video games or surfing the net. And even though I’ve avoided owning a smart phone and the 24/7 connection it entails, I spend more time online than I’d like. While healthy in moderation, excessive use of this technology confines us. The more readily available, the easier it is to grow dependent, creating an unbalanced and limited lifestyle.
Not only does the overuse of technology affect the user personally, it also creates relational issues.
Many people feel the need to get out their cell phones every five minutes, not realizing that their inattentiveness comes across as rude. They’re so used to multitasking that it just becomes a habit to keep their phone out. However, talking to seven friends at once doesn’t give them seven times the social maturity. Whether causing inattentiveness to in-person encounters or offering a crutch to avoid face-to-face conversations, communication-based technology is hampering our social skills.
Promoters of Google Glass claim it will encourage a more meaningful interaction by eliminating the need to look down at a phone or tablet, but I think having a screen dangling in front of my eyeballs would pose even more of a distraction than a smart phone. Far from focusing more clearly on what’s going on around me, I would find it harder to engage.
Using phones at least makes it obvious when people aren’t paying attention. If I were spending time with someone who had the Internet on their face, I would never know. Their gaze may point in my direction, but how can I be sure they’re listening or even looking at me? I wouldn’t call that a more meaningful interaction.
Sure, wearable computers probably aren’t intended for dinner date attire — but neither were smart phones and tablets not so long ago, and now look how hard it is to disconnect.
The useful realms of Google Glass are many, and I can see it proving its worth in business settings, the arts, sports and recreation, and many other fields, particularly for its hands-free function. I think it will be highly beneficial if used for a specific purpose and promptly removed from the face, but when it moves from novel to commonplace, as technology tends to do, I fear that Google Glass will be used less for isolated occasions and more for entertainment and daily use. When that happens, the lines between fantasy and reality will blur in an all too literal sense, and the results will be disastrous.