Because Sergey Brin can’t remember your name

Remember when the Segway was going to totally revolutionize personal transportation? Neither do I. Seems that most people would rather spend $50 on a pair of shoes than $5000 on a motorized, fair weather scooter. And who could have known? Well, most people, I suspect, except for those inhabiting that microcosmic bubble of the space-time continuum within which daydream the Technorati and their self-reinforcing, multimedia echo chamber.

Thus, I can’t help but think back to those heady times — when walking was going to go the way of the dinosaur, and we were all going to just scoot around on our battery-powered wheels — after reading this little bit of hype concerning Sergey Brin’s forthcoming world changing invention: Google Glass.

Now, I do see some potential niche markets for this device. As a heads-up display for augmenting immersive simulations (games), I think it would be awesome. And how cool would it be to be able to don a pair of these glasses while walking around a museum (for those who don’t require prescription lenses), or an art gallery? Nice. But not at $1500 a pop. At $1500 a pop, these will never be anything more than toys for the rich and airport security.

However, let’s say that through the modern miracles of automated mass production, cheap Chinese labor, and substantial subsidies by the telecoms, that one day I can walk down to my local Sprint store and get one of these for the price of an average smartphone? So what? Is this really going to replace my phone? My iPad? Even my Kindle? Probably not. It will merely be another piece of pricey gear of dubious utility that I will have to remember to pack around for those rare times when it would be fun to have. Pass.

Let’s pull the thread a little more. The publicity surrounding this device is suggesting that it will use the marvel of “augmented reality” to somehow radically alter how we interact with those around us; the idea being that we will be able to walk around while the glasses pull up fun facts and interesting tidbits in real time, terminator style, to help fill in those useful pieces of information — like the name of that important person sitting across from us at the business table, plus some targeted AdSense – that may help us be more “sociable.” Oh, and it will also allow us to record everything we see; obviously of great use when trying to stimulate intimate social conversation. Cool.

Or not. For instance, although we will intensely deny it, many of us cannot, indeed, efficiently walk and chew gum at the same time, so I’m not sure about the practicality of navigating the perils of modern society while simultaneously reading a coworker’s latest Facebook post as we pass him in the hallway. Second, call me old fashioned, but I still find it highly annoying when trying to converse with those who are busy texting or surfing the Net on their phone. Not sure how Goggle Glass is going to improve the “sociability” of that situation. Third most people will know if you really remember their name or are just pulling it up on your little display, with predictable results. That potentially important business contact with whom you just spent some face time is probably going to remember you about as much as you remember her. It’s a human thing. Call it “Salesmanship 101.”

And so on.

The fundamental reason why this conceptualization of “augmented reality” will certainly disappoint as a social device is that it cannot replace the human connection derived through the simple art of initiating dialog. Nor do I see this ever being an aid in creating that perfect conversation starter. Indeed, it’s already hard enough for many people to summon the courage to cross a room and talk to someone interesting without having to worry whether their online avatar passed muster. All I can say is, you better make sure your credit rating is top notch, once that app becomes available!

Fact is, we are already too augmentized from the second-to-second, immediateness needed for true personal engagement to derive social value from yet another device clamoring for our attention. And by alleviating the need to remember the little details about the people around us, it will merely cause further disassociation by converting seemingly trivial, yet fundamentally important social tasks like, say, remembering a name, into the consumption of just more burped up, insignificant facts.

If you really want to “augment” your sociability, then immerse yourself by giving it, and those around you, your undivided attention. And put those Goggle Glasses away. Right next to that Segway.

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Filed under Snake Oil, Technology

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