Google Glasses: Love it. Fear it. Love it. Fear it.

I find this concept video, though likely at least a few years off, really exciting. Exciting enough that I would actually start saving for it now, if I had confidence it were actually coming soon. However, it’s a Google project. Other than Search (game changer), Reader (awesome, but dying) Gmail (better than most) and Docs (people only really use it because it’s Google), Google tends to seriously screw up or drop some great, great concepts: Wave, Plus, Blogger, Picassa, Pages, etc. So we’ll see. Regarding new media and the future of the book, I have a couple of thoughts. Watch the vid, then check out my response below it:

I’m becoming enough of a nerd now that I tend to see lots and lots of things through the lens of my own academic/scholarly concerns/projects. So naturally, I watch this vid and the first thing I notice is that the guy never stops moving. The second thing I notice is that nothing in his world demands much of an attention-commitment from him. And finally, there’s nothing in this “day-in-the-life” example which demonstrates that this fella actually contributes anything to anything. He’s entirely a social consumer. Which, given Google’s mission, is perfectly understandable. Respectable, even, if they can in fact deliver on such a seamless experience. Like I said, I’d be one of the first to sign up. However, I want to respond to each of the red flags I note above:

This video is a convenient (but terrifying) illusion. I think much of the amazing-ness dulls when you sit this guy down in a cubicle and he’s got to produce ad copy, expenditure reports, or finely-detail engineering drawings for a superior. What happens to constant data stream when he’s left with the choice of turning it off in order to get some work done, or leaving it on in which case he’s faced with the (scientifically-suggested) fact that humans are shitty multi-taskers. So he shuts it off until he’s on his way home from work. 256 tweets. 36 emails. 97 Facebook updates. Which he tries to tackle as the deluge continues. And he’s driving his Chevy Volt down a six-lane highway, or navigating a downtown crosswalk (where he’s hopefully paying enough attention to avoid taxi-drivers also wearing these Google glasses, navigating traffic, smoking a cigarette, and figuring an alternative route to the airport).

I know all of this might seem like an exaggeration in order to make a point. It’s not. Consider the differences in the products I noted above. The products that work all work as a combination of ubiquity and convenience. Without a critical mass (and for Google, a critical mass is MASSIVE), a product won’t last. I hate to say it, but I’m not sure this product would actually make our lives better. Which is kind of interesting. This might be the most crystal-clear example of the socio-cognitive limitations of a seamlessly connected world. I’m convinced that if this product were to gain enough adoption for Google to continue developing it, the world would be a far-more connected, but far less productive and far less safe world to navigate.

Wow. When I started this post, I was expecting to explain why I was so excited about this project. Hmmm. Maybe not so much.

For instance, imagine that you’re a teacher and all of the students in your class are wearing these glasses. What happens to the eye-contact you depend on for your audience interaction? How do you know their not checking email, Facebook, Twitter, etc, during the lecture? I’m the last guy on the planet who wants to police these sorts of actions, but after two years of teaching exclusively in a computer lab, I have to admit that I see almost an overwhelmingly strong inverse-correlation between the amount of time students spend on socially-networked activities in the classroom and the quality of their classroom performance and participation. Google Glasses would not help. At all.

Unless of course we, as critically-thinking, generous teachers develop ways to engage students with those very technologies. But I’m skeptical, somehow.

And I’m thinking of Foucault’s discussion of Benthem’s panopticon. And it makes my heart sink a little to think that I depend a bit on the panopticon as a strategy for classroom observation. I would be seriously lost if I had no way of knowing when a student was paying attention or distracted.

And what about reading? If there’s any human activity that benefits more than reading from sustained, continuous attention, I’d be hard-pressed to think about it. Surgery, maybe. Okay, surgery. And rock-climbing. Yeah, okay, so maybe reading isn’t at the top of the list, but it’s one of the important ones, that’s for sure. And I’m not really saying anything new here. Reading demands attention. Progress is driven by technology, technology by commerce, commerce by advertising, and advertising is driven by attention. So reading vs. progress? Hmmmm. Now I’m scared. That can’t be right. Let’s call it a provisional syllogism. Better yet, I should probably admit that it’s an off-the-cuff, knee-jerk syllogism. Hopefully that makes you feel better. It makes me feel better. Unfortunately, it’s what I’ve got to work with right now. So I’ll just have to keep working.