The social networks are all aglow with news of the next generation of wearable computing. Will Apple release an iWatch? What’s the latest on Google Glass? Will someone be releasing digital underpants, and will they be touch-enabled? (There’s a new spin on the internet of Things…)
I don’t know if I’m getting increasingly Luddite as I get older, but all of this worries me. And it worries me because of the sense that all of this communication technology runs the risk of us actually communicating less, not more.
Earlier today someone shared a photo of their offices in the days before computers. Without monitors breaking up the spaces, it was a truly open plan environment. Screens act as barriers.
In meetings these days, one gets increasingly attuned to a sense that people aren’t engaged, aren’t “there” in the moment. Hiding behind laptop screens, tip-tapping away, “I’m making notes” when you know they’re answering emails and instant messages. But at least with the laptop screen up you know they aren’t paying you due attention.
Wearable computing, and particularly spectacles-based displays, could leave us looking in the direction of each other, but distracted into the middle data distance. In this always-distracted world, you can be jumping out of a plane and still not be “in the moment”. (An aside: am I the only person who watches that video with “WHHHHOOOOOOAAAAA! BODYFORM!!!” screaming through my brain?)
It struck me, seeing the pre-PC office space that maybe we will look back on the monitor era as a strange interlude in human history where we spent most of our time with physical barriers between us. In the future we’ll use the opportunity to be in the place, in the present, with each other.
But maybe the big physical screens will merely be replaced by tiny ones, and a constant dazed staring into the middle distance…