My husband follows technology. From afar, I should say; we are old fashioned, real book reading people who don’t jump to embrace every new device that hits the streets. And for the most part, he likes the weird stuff--the things that sound like science fiction, are in the testing phase and are pretty far from being accepted as normal by us regular old fogeys.
Then, he tells me about them. And the hair on the back of my neck stands up, because this stuff is often outrageous. Drones the size of mosquitoes to spy on just about anything; fingered headgear computer hookups that allow you to control the monitor with your brain. (Because, I guess, the finger prong things pushing against your skull can read what you are thinking. Awesome for people with disabilities, but it also begs some thinking about computers that can read your thoughts and how that might all play out. In the science fiction novels, this never ends well.)
The biggest thing I wanted to tell you about, though, is already pretty close to its public release. It’s called “Google Glass,” and some people have described the gear as a step to the world of cyborgs.
Basically, they are glasses that you wear that connect you with the internet in all you do. You can take photos and video with them, but the real business is the device’s ability to read verbal commands and to allow users to access social networking, maps and other web features.
Google released a video in April that I watched, and then another one last week, and some believe the glasses may be available sometime this year. I, for one, am not ready.
The first video I found a little more unsettling than the most recent one. The latter is mainly an eye-view of people doing really fun and exciting things, as if you would find yourself skydiving, becoming a ballerina or trapeze artist with a horse jumping hobby if you’d only buy the glasses.
The first video is supposed to show how a regular Joe would use the glass during a regular day. Joe wakes up, starts eating breakfast, the usual. While he’s biting into his breakfast sandwich, the glasses let him know he’s got an internet message from a buddy (I’d assume via Google+). Joe verbally confirms a meeting at the bookstore with his buddy, and the glasses convert the speech to text and send it on to his friend.
These messages appear superimposed on Joe’s view of the real world. When he gets to the subway station, he receives an alert in the right-hand corner of the screen letting him know that subway service is suspended, and then a map showing walking directions to his bookstore destination appears. How handy.
Throughout the little journey to the bookstore and then to the top of a building to play a ukulele, Joe “checks in” his location on the internet, shares photos of what he sees, and communicates with his buddies. When he gets to the bookstore, he asks where the music section is, and the glasses provide him with a map to the correct aisle. When he finds the book he’s looking for, he asks where his buddy is, and the glasses let him know the guy is 402 feet away and lead him there.
This all might be fine and dandy for a trip to the bookstore, but it still seems like we are on the edge of something bad. I have thought a lot about what bothers me about this, and I think that I just have to draw the line when people start mixing the internet with the real world so intimately. Aren’t we already distracted enough by our virtual lives?
On the weekends, I usually keep myself pretty far from the computer. I want to take a walk in the woods without my phone; I’d like to talk to my friends without their eyeballs (or minds) half stuck to a computer or cell phone screen. I hope that kids today are able to experience some simplicity in their childhoods like we did, without the constant flash of technology in the corners of their minds, without the now-now-now instant gratification that seems to have become the expectation born of an ever-expanding internet world. Remember when we had a question about a word or idea, and our parents would say, “Look it up,” and that meant actually doing something?!
The world is changing so quickly these days. I’m certain, in my lifetime, I will see much more than internet glasses come and go. I will ease into some of this, I’m sure. (Make sure to holler at me if you ever see me with the headgear or cyborg glasses!)
One thing, though, is happening much more quickly than I thought it would. People have long wondered when old fashioned writing with a pen or pencil and paper will fade away. E-readers are threatening books, and it probably is only a matter of time before handwritten notes are a thing of the past. I always thought this would not happen until I was an old lady, but I have noticed something: I am one of the only reporters I run into on a daily basis who uses a notebook most of the time. Sure, there are situations where trying to balance a laptop is too difficult, but with the new, smaller devices, it is becoming more and more easy to leave the notebook at home. It’s happening! I think I’m already getting the looks: “check out that old gal, scribbling away on her yellow pad—how old-school!”
I am sometimes excited to hear about new technology, because it is often really great news. Scientists are developing prosthetic limbs that allow the user to “feel” sensations. Can you imagine? It is a wonderful world to live in these days, as long as we remember to hold onto what is real around us, and take every new science fiction leap into the future with a little grain of salt.
Let me know how those glasses work out. I heard they’ve got contact lenses on the way, too.