You’ve all seen this video now, or similar ones like it: artfully laid-out scenarios in which Google tries to convince us that their Project Glass “smart glasses” are going to become a normal, ordinary part of life - instead of something “ridiculous when used by normal people.” At least we know they’re on the right track - after all, as the great Clay Shirky has said:
“When a technology becomes boring, that’s when the social effects become interesting.”
But here’s the catch - there’s a dangerous side rail your technology could go down on its way to becoming boring. Let’s call it the Backlot of Embarrassing Utility. You know what’s there? Electric knives. Solar-powered septic tanks. And this guy:
Let’s be honest with ourselves - Google Glass is a cool product. REALLY cool. When I see the functionality there, I definitely want those abilities - those superhuman moments of connecting data from my online world to my offline world. But you know what I don’t want?
- People worried that I’m always recording everything we talk about
- People thinking I’m never focused on them because I’m looking at something else in virtual space
- Conversations that trail off awkwardly because someone was just alerted to a virtual moment while looking me straight in the eye
There’s fair room to discuss whether virtual people should ever take precedence over physical people, and if you ask me, I think there’s instances where they should. But the fact is this: we currently have a set of societal norms that don’t allow for technology well. They don’t let me bring my online world into an “offline” conversation. Those rules may change, but they’re not going anywhere for a long time to come.
Unless you’re Apple. They found a way to avoid the Backlot of Embarrassing Utility, and the way is this:
Become cool before you become useful.
Take a look at these:
You know what iPod earbuds do? Many of the same things as Google Glass: they interrupt modes of conversation, they push the virtual into a physical space (in this case digital audio), and they create an outward sign of my disconnection from the world. But as Jeremiah Owyang brings up, those white earbuds turned people into mugging targets in NYC, because they were a sign of something desirable. Something valuable. Something cool.
Google, you’re on the clock. Make Google Glass cool, or relegate it to the backlot.