This is the Modem World: The dark side of Google Glass

Each week Joshua Fruhlinger contributes This is the Modem World, a column dedicated to exploring the culture of consumer technology.

This is the Modem World: The dark side of Google Glass

I want to be excited about Google Glass — I really do. I saw Robocop as a kid and dreamed that, one day, I too could walk around with a HUD that would feed me information on call, receive messages and record the world around me.

But now that years have passed and I've witnessed humanity worship the smartphone, make prevalent voice-controlled navigation and perfect self-mounted, POV digital video cameras, I'm not so sure that Google Glass is going to be good for us as a society. There is a dark side to what appears to be a wonderful coming together of complementary technology, and I'm here to poop this party.

At least as it's currently described, Google Glass will allow us to pay attention to the world while still being connected. But I'm gonna ask: Have we become so addicted to our information — social networking, news, email, gaming, entertainment — that we've become dangerous? I honestly don't know, but on my daily drive home in Los Angeles, I see at least three people a day checking text messages when they should be driving.

Meanwhile, we've become rude: people check messages in the middle of conversations, get up from dinner tables to take calls and hold their smartphones on their laps to respond to emails below the tablecloth. We've become jerks.

Google Glass proposes that we multi-task — see a new message while still looking our friends in the eye, get map data while still watching the road and capture moments while still enjoying them without a camera between us and the action.

Some of these things are great. Others not so much.

Do we really want to walk around with HUDs in our eyes? Have we accepted our distractedness to the point that we think it's OK to check email in the corner of our vision while we pretend to pay attention? Maybe we're evolving, ultimately capable of doing both. But not yet. In the proposed world of Google Glass, for all we know, our friends could be reading the news the entire time we thought they were hearing our whines for support.

Glass' UI is a mix of finger gestures on the frame along with voice commands. Let's consider this for a moment. Imagine a room full of Glass Explorers reciting commands, rubbing their rims and trying to interact all while attempting to get information off the network.

Imagine you're having a deep conversation with a friend, only to realize that he has been recording you the whole time. Will we be comfortable with this? This isn't a privacy issue, really — we're over that — it's a matter of trust.

And let's be honest: What does Glass do that my smartphone doesn't do already?

And let's be honest again: Were I offered a test of the device tomorrow, I'd jump at the chance. I'd wear it all the time. I'd annoy my friends. I'd record everything. I'd love it and pet it. But I can't help wondering if we're ready.

I finish with some predictions for our Glass future:

  1. A fantastic new genre of first-person video. People will capture everything and we'll see it all. Some will be amazing, most of it will be unbearable and even hard to watch, if not completely boring. Either way, we'll spend a lot more time living one another's memories, bad and good.

  2. Theft. These things are expensive, and you can bet we'll hear about more than one poor soul being mugged by opportunists looking for the telltale Glass glow adorning Explorers' eyes.

  3. A new breed of hugely personal social networking, "Sent from my Glass," like Twitter and Vine wrapped into a frenzy.

  4. GlassCons. Picture it: an entire hotel ballroom filled with Glass enthusiasts sitting next to one another yet choosing to communicate via their HUDs. Run. Run away.

  5. Early car accidents and people walking into poles. We may think that having the HUD available in the corner of our eyes all the time, as opposed to the distracting smartphone — or even GPS — screen, is better. But we'll see a rash of accidents caused by people paying attention to their Glass, making adjustments or trying to execute a command while they should be paying attention to other cars, pedestrians, poles and children. Legislation will follow and interfaces will be improved, dropping voice command in lieu of biofeedback technology invented in North Korea that they give to us as a peace offering.

Joshua Fruhlinger is the former Editorial Director for Engadget and current contributor to both Engadget and the Wall Street Journal. You can find him on Twitter at @fruhlinger.