Septermber 15, 2014

Margaret Mead used to say the only way to understand a culture was to be both a participant and an observer. So, I bought Google Glass. I wear it like a pith helmet on a trek into the jungle of the tech-culture.

What did I learn from a year with Glass? I have their eyes again!

More than anything else, Glass restored my eye-to-eye communication with my family and friends. The smartphone is a shield. I hold it up to check my mail and messages and cut off my face-to-face contact with the world. Smartphones disconnect us from the people in front of us. I reach out to whomever is not here and ignore the people who are here. When I sit down with a group of friends at a restaurant and all the phones come out, it’s like everyone is holding a shield and fending off direct contact with everyone else.

Smartphone: Not Here, Not Now

In the Woodstock era, the hippies chanted “Be Here Now” to focus on the moment. Today, we are somewhere else with someone else. Ironically, what I share is what I am doing here. Rather, I share what I am not doing here … because I am so busy being somewhere else.

I use my smartphone to share pictures of the dinner I am not eating.

I share the images of the people around the table who I am not talking to because I am so busy sharing.

Our smart phones are shields. We can avoid the real world in front of us.

But Google Glass takes down that shield. I have their eyes again.

Eye Contact

Every culture has rules about eye contact. “Look me in the eye and say that,” American mothers would demand of their lying child. When we agree, we “see eye-to-eye.” In Latin cultures, direct eye contact is often seen as threatening and averting eyes is a sign of respect, while Rastafarians make deep penetrating eye contact as part of their social presence.

The eyes may be the windows on the soul, but the smartphone gives everyone the back of the hand.

Glass puts a computer screen “right there” — just above the line of vision, making a computer screen as available as the sky. Having your computer stuff right before your very eyes, all the time, is magical. The computer universe is right there without taking your eyes off the people right in front of you. It’s a real eye opener, switching from eye contact to computer screen and back.

Do I pay less attention to my companions when Glass pops up a message? Not really, I find myself looking through Glass and remaining engaged in the real world.

There are news stories about people being barred from restaurants because they have Glass or being mistaken for surreptitious photographers because of the camera. Chalk it up to misunderstanding. Some people think Glass is recording constantly, like the NSA scanning the world. The impression that Glass is surreptitiously looking at you fuels fear. Journalists swooped in on these stories and turned Glass into something bad.

I found that Glass opened social relations. I look through Glass, still in contact, seeing the field before me. Heads-up. I see you and I see a screen. Not “instead of” but “in addition to.” I see my companions and engage them. This may be Glass’ most important breakthrough.

The smartphone is a barrier disconnecting us from the people around us; Glass is an opening to connect with people.

(Photo via Creative Commons.)

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