This year seems to be the year of the wearable computer device. Google has just announced version 2 of its Glass device, Apple is supposedly jumping into the watch game, and companies like Nike and Fitbit have revolutionized the way most tech savvy people workout and track their fitness. I like the idea of these devices, and I actually own a few types of wearables already, but there’s still a part of me that is hesitant to get on board with this idea. Wearable computers are changing our culture, and I’m not sure it’s for the better.
Why They’re Awesome
Let’s first examine what makes a device like Google Glass compelling. For starters, it puts information front and center that you previously had to use phones, tablets, or computers in order to access. Having things like text messages, phone calls, and status updates stream across a HUD like screen is pretty damn awesome if you ask me. Another great thing that I believe Glass will be able to help you with is face recognition. As someone who lives a fairly public life, I meet a ton of people and oftentimes have trouble remembering names or even faces. I can see where Glass might come in handy by scanning people as I approach them and then displaying things to me like their name, email address, or even Facebook profile. This would ensure that I never have to have that awkward “oh yeah, I remember you” conversation again.
I also think wearables serve a great purpose in terms of health & wellness. I’ve relied heavily on devices like the Fitbit and Nike Fuelband trackers in order to motivate myself to stay healthy over the past few years. If you were to add into that real-time health statistics like blood pressure, heart rate, and blood glucose levels, I think all of us would have a much clearer picture of just how healthy (or unhealthy) we are, and maybe that would be a catalyst for change across the country. Also, these devices could keep track of those aforementioned metrics and send you weekly or monthly reports to track your progress, or send them directly to your doctor’s office, thus eliminating the need for some of those office visits.
Why They’re Not Awesome
We’ll get to why I think these devices are creepy momentarily, but for now let’s talk about the one problem I have with these devices which could be easily remedied. They’re ugly. If Google wants me to wear Glass, they need to make Glass look like something other than a coat hanger wrapping around my face. I don’t want it to be blatantly obvious that I’m wearing a computer, nor do I want to look like a total nerd 24/7. I’ve seen several people wearing Google Glass and they all look ridiculous. The same holds true for the wristband wearables. Nike’s Fuelband looks like a bloated version of one of those silicon bracelets you buy to support cancer research or something, and the Fitbit just looks awkward to me. I’m hopeful that if Apple does choose to produce a wearable, that they’ll set the standard for them in terms of design and push others to pay more attention to the aesthetic aspect as well.
Another reason why these are not awesome is the fact that they pose a potentially huge safety concern when people are driving or performing otherwise dangerous activities. Google is creating a Glass App Store already. That means we’re not far away from those devices having Angry Birds right in front of your face anytime you want it. Can you imagine how distracting that would be if you were trying to drive? I’d argue that it’s just as bad, if not worse, than driving while texting or talking on a phone.
Why They’re Creepy
In the previous section I spoke about how I don’t want it to be obvious that I’m wearing a computer. Well, even though that’s how I feel, I also think that’s what makes these things creepy as hell. I’m not sure I want to walk down the street and have people analyzing my face unbeknownst to me. I believe this makes you a bigger target for thieves as well. What if I pass someone on the street who is wearing Glass, for instance, and they run facial recognition on me and see that I’m worth billions of dollars (I’m not, mind you). That makes me vulnerable, especially if it’s late and we aren’t on a crowded street.
I’m also not thrilled about the idea that people can seemingly take photos of me whenever they want by using these devices. At least when someone takes photos or video of you now, you can pretty much tell because they’ve got their smartphone in the usual “I’m taking a picture of you” position. With these wearables, I’m not aware of any sort of posture and/or alert mechanism that would clue me into the fact that they’re taking photos or shooting video. I see this is a huge invasion of privacy and potentially dangerous side effect of these types of devices.
How do We Fix It?
I think these devices have the potential to revolutionize the way we work, interact, and live our daily lives, but only if there are strict regulations put into place and certain social protocols are followed while they’re in use. For instance, it should be mandatory that these devices have some sort of indicator when they are shooting video or taking a photo. A simple LED would do the trick nicely, and if you don’t see that light, that’s your fault. Also, there should laws in place, just like the hands-free laws we have now, to prevent these devices from being used while driving a vehicle. I’m really not interested in getting rear-ended because some jackass thought it would be a good idea to play Words with Friends on his Google Glass while driving home.
As far as social protocols go, we need to rethink our “new norms” as we interact with people. These devices are going to change the game in terms of how you interact with others and we need to understand that not everyone is going to be as jazzed as you are that you have a computer strapped to your face. Take a look at Robert Scoble, for example. Robert is one of my favorite tech pundits, and I always enjoy reading and watching his material online. However, when he started posting photos of himself showering while wearing Google Glass, I was a mortified. People have to understand that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should when it comes to these devices.
I’m excited for the future of technology, and by no means am I trying to say that these devices are bad. All I’m saying is that we need to think them through a little more and work them into our culture gradually instead of forcing them onto the public before we fully understand the ramifications and how they are going to change the way we view and interact with the world. What are your thoughts on wearable computers? Good idea? Bad idea? Sound off in the comments or hit me up via social media… Thanks for reading!