At least 2 billion of planet earth’s inhabitants live in two worlds; the three dimensional offline world of things that we can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste; and the online world, represented in two dimensions on the always-too-small screens of our desktops, laptops, tablets, and smart phones.
You and I thrash back and forth between these two worlds, trying desperately to integrate one into the other. Google Glass is the first step in the amalgamation of offline and online. More than blur the distinction between the two, it attempts to eliminate it. I know, that’s a bit hyperbolic, especially if you have not yet tried Glass, but only if you limit your imagination by what you have already experienced rather than extend it to catch a glimpse of the future.
The problem of course is that the future never comes fully formed. It is always disguised in a clumsy package that doesn’t comfortably fit the behaviors we are accustomed to. That’s just as true of Glass as it is of the long line of disruptive innovations preceding it. It’s human nature to place “new” technologies into old behaviors. When the first Walkman was introduced the notion of walking around with tiny headphones in public places made little sense – it seemed weird and antisocial. And so it goes with every new technology. We discount its impact by failing to grasp the magnitude with which our behaviors can change. Ultimately it is the dramatic change in behavior that shapes the future most, the technology is just a catalyst. Glass, as it stands now, is not ready to take on that challenge of seamlessly merging these two world together, at least not in more than a modest way. It only took me a few minutes wearing Glass to appreciate that the distinction between the two is an artificial one that needs to be addressed and that the technology to do that it is already here.
It’s not that difficult to fast forward our behaviors to a time when some form of Glass will fully eliminate any distinction between offline and online. This Glass is something you don’t have to use it all the time, it is there when you need it. It’s fully integrated with your daily life, activity, and routine. Glass may not be the best device you’ve ever held in your hands. But for sure it is the most promising one. While the basic Glass applications of taking pictures and video have been well-publicized, the ability to dictate an email, make a call, surf the web, search, and get directions through glass are well developed and easy to use. Τhe Glass is not just another device connected on the web. It is a device able to understand logical questions. It is impressive to realize that Glass is a device able to talk to your senses, to interact with your world and be a part of you, not the world you live in. Glass is, in my opinion at least, the best glimpse into what future brings to us.
The most important thing to realize is that we are already living in an era when the way things and devices are connected profoundly influences and affects our lives. To get connected or “go online” does not require an extra step in our daily life; being online is our life! Mark Zuckerberg once said that babies are no longer raised with bytes but they are born into bytes. We see this everywhere. Think about the simple fact that while our relationship with time is tighter than ever, almost no one wears a watch – at least no one under the age of 20! Of even greater significance is the degree to which we are giving up information about ourselves without any real understanding of the value or consequences. Privacy, for all practical purposes, is gone. We are keen to give our location in order to receive the most accurate weather or traffic forecast. Crowdsourcing apps, such as foursquare or waze, make sharing information and private data a no-thought-required action. At the same time, devices like the nest® intelligent thermostat record when we are not at home while we publicize to the word through social networks where we are – and our smart phones tag us like wildlife.
Connectivity seems to require disclosure. This is something most of us, especially those who are younger, have no problem with as long as we are able to enjoy something which makes our life just a little better. You may shudder at this but it is something I see daily in my classmates. Like it or not the experience of and the expectations for privacy has changed. The kids who today run around with not just devices but a culture of 24/7 connection, localization, and complete transparency of their behaviors are the same ones who will be legislating tomorrow’s society. This is not the Internet of “egocasting” where we could build online personas of what we would have liked to have been, rather it is an Internet of who we really are. Today’s Internet culture is clearly in conflict. We love to grab other people’s attention but we don’t like our future employers looking at our Facebook pages or Twitter accounts. We work hard to make people like or admire our lifestyle but do not wish to have this become a piece of the puzzle of our lives. It seems awkward having a tracking device with us during our personal time– while we’re running or working out, for example–but this drives to better behaviors and products, much closer to our individual needs and expectations than even we can ourselves define.
We have two billion people on the planet living in two worlds. There are still five billion who live in only one. The two billion are the most prosperous, protected, and privileged. Might bridging the economic and social divide that separates these two worlds create something much greater than anything we can possibly imagine? Internet.org works towards that direction to bring another billion of people online. In its current form Glass offers barely a glimpse into this new hyperconnected reality. Still it causes the imagination to wonder what the world will look like when the barriers between our two worlds are finally taken down; not just for the two billion but for the other five billion as well.