I have seen the future, and it is wearable.
But before I tell you about this future, let’s take a short trip into the past, specifically to the mid-1400s, when a German by the name of Johannes Gutenberg was hard at work inventing the printing press. There’s a common misconception that Gutenberg’s press instantly changed society. This isn’t quite so.
Those first books were immense. The Morgan Library and Museum’s copy of the Gutenberg Bible weighs 33 pounds, 8 ounces. A book wasn’t something that you took on a walk to read on a park bench; it wasn’t something that was shared with friends. Instead books were immobile, often read only at a lectern. And, as most people were illiterate, there were a select few who could read them.
Those books were essentially equivalent to computers 30 years ago: large and inaccessible to almost everyone in society. In the early 1500s, an Italian by the name of Aldus Manutius invented the pocketable book, changing history. Manutius realized that instead of printing one large page of a book on a printing press, he could print several on a single large sheet of paper, then cut them up, and make smaller, portable books.
Manutius’ transformation is like the shift to the smartphone, which are really just very small computers.
To continue our history lesson, another huge shift occurred in the late 1800s when the motion picture was invented. It enabled visual storytelling and at a mass scale unimaginable before.
The equivalent to that moment, of a technology that works regardless of age, education, literacy or intelligence, is happening right now with the advent of wearable computing. These wearable technologies like Google’s glasses that project information right where a person is looking will have the same effect on smartphones and computers as the motion picture did on books.
All these things share one distinct trait – a theme that has helped usher in new technologies since people drew on cave walls: storytelling. Storytelling for information and communication.
The ultimate form of communication occurs when “technology gets out of the way,” as Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founder, said this week at Google I/O, the company’s annual developer conference.
Brin noted this during a demonstration of Google’s Project Glass, the company’s glasses. See a person, and the glasses could tell you his work history. Look at a landmark and its significance could be explained.
I had a brief opportunity to try the glasses, and the experience was as mesmerizing as when I saw the Apple iPhone for the first time.
The screen of Project Glass sits off to the side, clear and unobtrusive. You interact with it when you need to. When an email or text message comes in, you can look if you want, or simply ignore it. It’s not as if a large red stop sign is jammed in your face when messages arrive.These things obviously have their share of problems. They cost $1,500, for a special pre-order. Although I’d gleefully walk around with a pair on, my sister and the majority of readers of this newspaper would probably say, “No thanks. Way too geeky for me.”
But that will all change.
Brin said the glasses changed the way he posts his activities. “I have found myself responding to a text message or emails asking what I’m doing with a picture,” he said.
He told a story of repeatedly throwing his son, Benji, in the air with both hands, and then catching him. Google Glass took pictures and documented the moment. “I could never have done that with a smartphone or a camera,” Brin said. Instead, it was just Brin and his son, playing.
The technology was barely there.
And that’s the point. When technology gets out of the way, we are liberated from it. Wearable computing will free us from peering at life through a 4-inch screen. We will no longer have to constantly look at our devices, but instead, these wearable devices will look back at us.