Most of us have been there: you’re sitting with a friend, maybe enjoying a nice meal or a glass of wine, and you get the urge to check your phone. Has someone called, texted, emailed or tweeted? Is there a Facebook update you need to know about?
A battle ensues: between Compulsive You, who is addicted to being connected, and Civilized You, who knows it is more important to keep focus on the actual humans in front of you rather than on the virtual humans in your little device.
These days, of course, it’s usually Compulsive You who wins. Oh, you might manage to hold out until your dinner companion is looking around for the waiter -- a pretty good opportunity -- or, even better, until she heads to the bathroom. But sometimes the desire is so strong that you fake your own trip to the bathroom. And sometimes you don’t even bother to fake it: a quick press of the button to light up the screen, a quick glance at the notifications, that’s not so bad, is it?
It is. It is, in fact, awful, and you know it. You know it from being on the other side of the table: the side that feels the live moment is more important, the side that has to pause its story because -- goodness! -- your friend’s notifications show there’s an email that simply cannot wait, and she’s so sorry but she really must just reply quickly, you don’t mind, do you? When you are sitting opposite this behavior it is nearly unbearable, and so you do the only thing you can do: you take out your own phone and check your own emails and post your own status updates. And if your checking and messaging and Facebooking takes a few seconds longer than your mate’s, well then there’s nothing left for her to do but look at something else on her phone, and what unfolds is a race to see who can be more technologically indifferent to the other, a race that leaves no doubt about what is really important: the phone.
(Lest you think this rant is in any way holier than thou, be aware that there’s a reason I’m so darn familiar with this scenario.)
At least with the phone, there is a saving grace, and it is this: sometimes Civilized You wins. Sometimes the better angels of your nature convince you to not to look at it, or to turn it off altogether, or even to leave it at home. Sometimes we can choose to not be distracted by this thing that only feels essential, this thing that logic tells us very clearly is not.
Ah, but with Google Glass…
Google Glass does not wait for you to pick it up. It sits in your line of sight, begging to interfere, begging you to shift your attention from the physical world you inhabit to the all-too-compelling one in the lens.
And for the person on the other side of that table, the likely effect is devastating.
Sure, the first few wearers will win on novelty alone. And the fact that it looks dorky right now doesn’t matter in the least: one thing futurists tell you is that you should never judge a technology based on the form factor of the initial prototypes.
The issue is not novelty, nor form factor, nor whether Glass has apps for Facebook, CNN and Evernote. The issue is that Glass profoundly interferes with the experience of life, that, as unobtrusive as they have tried to make it, it still calls to you to stop looking at the world around you and stare instead at the little screen hovering just at the upper periphery of it, a screen that whispers to you in a husky, hypnotizing voice that this email simply cannot wait, and, besides, the person you’re dining with won’t mind, will they?