At 36, I thought that maybe I had reached a turning point. While I was once a first-adopter (I had a mobile phone before all my friends, was blogging by 2001, was an early and voracious user of Facebook and Twitter, and a vocal champion on the awesomeness of the Internet), I had recently been feeling less in love with the tech that had enchanted me when I was younger. I had tried — and failed — to fall in love with e-readers, and when the first images of Google Glass — the Internet-connected glasses from the tech giant — debuted, I was slightly disgusted. I've carried that feeling of disquiet around for the last couple months, trying to figure out why it bothered me so much.
I think I've hit upon it: While I'm a lover of tech (or at least, I used to be), I'm also a grew-up-wandering-the-woods, fourth-generation environmentalist. I was raised in a family in which each person, in their own way, is or was intensely connected to the local environment. I in turn, studied geology, biology and environmental science, and I'm always super-aware of what is happening to the planet and my ecosystem, wherever I live. I stop and smell flowers almost daily, spend time watching clouds and ducks, and stare at the moon for a bit whenever I see it peeking through the clouds/buildings/stars. I take pictures of interesting natural phenomena and print it on fabrics, and decorate my home with found natural objects. I garden, and swim in oceans, seas, sounds, cenotes, ponds and lakes whenever I can, and I get plenty of sun. And I think that Google Glass has the unique power to distance everyone (even me) even further from the world around us, interaction that already seems to be at an all-time low. It will create a cocoon of technology and information that once we become dependent on it, will be hard to break out of.
Google Glass intrinsically bothers me, not because it looks a bit silly, and not because it's new technology, but because it moves the last connection to where we are (New York City, hiking in the Berkshires, driving through the desert), day-to-day, and literally forces it to the background so we can be online even more. While some have complained that it will inevitably lead to removing ourselves from (or infringing on the privacy rights of) our fellow people, I think those are solvable problems. While I love being online, and even being connected through my smartphone, the idea of walking around with a screen between myself and the world means that I'm much less likely to be able to really see what's going on around me.
Living insulated lives away from the natural world has quantifiable, negative effects, especially on children (and how long will it be before mini-Google glasses for kids are released?). Richard Luov has written a book and even started a movement after publishing the bestselling "Last Child in the Woods" about this problem, which some eco psychologists link to higher-than-ever rates of depression and anxiety, ADD and addictions. Modern people are less involved with their ecosystems than ever before, and it affects our mental health in profound ways. But instead of getting outside more, or figuring out how we can use technology to deepen and celebrate our connection to nature, we look for it to remove us from where we are, wherever that is.
Only time will tell if Google Glass is a boom or a bust (plenty of smart folks think it may well go the way of the Segway, while others think it truly is the Next Big Thing). No doubt it could be a boon in certain situations — I can imagine for home cooks (or emergency medical situations), having a recipe and directions in a hands-free format would be helpful. And maybe there are ways to use it for environmental education; I can prognosticate an app that helps you identify bird songs, trees, mushrooms or flowers, or lets you know if a specific beach you've found has a rip-tide in effect so you can swim safely. But all of these things can also be accessed on a smartphone, and none of them replaces real environmental education and plain-old time romping around in natural environments, whether you're an adult or a kid.
The difference between a smartphone and glasses with the Internet in them is that you can always put the phone in your pocket and forget about it for awhile. It functions as a tool that you can use and put away at will. Google Glass is literally in (and on) your face.
Or maybe I'm just getting to be an old fogey.
What do you think of Google Glass?
Related on MNN:
- Google Glass apps for the New York Times, Google Unveiled
- Project Glass: A first look at Google's augmented reality glasses