There is but one remedy for the Glass wearer - a bucket of iced water in the face whenever you suspect he has taken you unawares
With the public beta launch of Google Glass there has been a lot of discussion on why it will or won’t fail. The ultimate benchmark for success is high: After someone has tried Glass can they imagine life without it?
It’s the wrong question.
Glass is Google’s unintentional public service announcement on the future of privacy. Our traditional bogeyman for privacy was Big Brother and its physical manifestation (closed-circuit TV) but the reality today is closer to what I call Little Sister, and she is socially active, curious, sufficiently tech-savvy, growing up in the land of “free,” getting on with life and creating a digital exhaust that is there for the taking. The sustained conversation around Glass will be sufficient to lead to a societal shift in how we think about the ownership of data, and to extrapolate a bit, the kind of cities we want to live in. For me, the argument that Glass is somehow inherently nefarious misses a more interesting point: It is a physical and obvious manifestation of things that already exist and are widely deployed today, whose lack of physical, obvious presence has limited a mainstream critical discourse.
As a product that is both on-your-face and in-your-face, Glass is set to become lightning rod for a wider discussion around what constitutes acceptable behaviour in public and private spaces. The Glass debate has already started but these are early days; each new iteration of hardware and functionality will trigger fresh convulsions. In the short term Glass will trigger anger, name-calling, ridicule and the occasional bucket of thrown water (whether it’s iced water I don’t know). In the medium term as societal interaction with the product broadens, signs will appear in public spaces guiding mis/use1 and lawsuits will fly, while over the longer term, legislation will create boundaries that reflect some form of im/balance between individual, corporate and societal wants, needs and concerns.
Like a number of you I purchased a Twine—the thing that provides new ways to sense and measure and understand the world around us. I’m a happy customer—they’ve done a good job in rallying a community, bringing it to market, and although I’ve never met the team I have a greater affinity for who they are (or who I perceive they are) and what they’re trying to do than most of my relationships as a consumer. But I’ve hardly used it.
Today I received an email nudge from them.
I just wanted to check in and see how things are going with you and your Twine.
We want you to enjoy owning Twine as much as we enjoyed designing it, so please let us know if you have any questions!
I assume this email is in response to how little I’ve been using Twine, the range of things that I tried using it for and how quickly I stopped experimenting with it—when the product is connected it’s easy data to pull up. The email is subtle enough to be read as something more generic and certainly doesn’t come across as big-brotherish. But it did trigger pangs of guilt.
Guilt that the blood, sweat and tears they put into bringing this to market; the environmental impact of manufacturing, shipping it to me; and in spending the time on support to set it up; all were not repaid through sustained use. And I know they know (and if they are reading this, they know I know they know). Hence the guilt. Which, in this slither of a discussion, is a good thing, because a better understanding of use can help me make smarter consumption decisions in the future. Or at least from today’s perspective, because new models of consumption, sale, support, ownership and use emerge – its not a static landscape. (I prefer to consider myself a consumer in the sense of appreciating consumption, use, rather than wanton consumption).
I encountered a nice touch on a business-trip stay at the URBN Hotel Shanghai, where on arrival, the receptionist declined to take my credit card for a deposit. In doing so, she was essentially saying, "Your credit is good." I’m an occasional guest there, and frog’s Shanghai studio sends a fair number of folks to stay there, too--but the familiarity and recognition was still a momentary, pleasant surprise.
Recognizing the customer with a "Welcome back Ms. --" is one of the basics of service design; it acknowledges who we are and reinforces our "right" to be in that (private) space. In the context of an upscale environment, it gently massages the ego. The check-in process for hotels is fairly formulaic: You show your passport and credit card, the first of which is legally required, at least in China; the other is dependent on the company should it turn out your credit is not good. Waiving the need for a credit card is a small step. After all, if an establishment immediately recognizes you when you enter, it should have your (most likely valid) credit card on file.
A lot of you reading this work on bringing new products and services to market, you understand that twinge of pride when it ships. Some of have start-ups requiring a whole different level of energy and commitment. But how about starting a country? What would that take?
I was at TEDxJuba last week, held on the banks of the White Nile on the one year anniversary of the birth of South Sudan following its independence. The theme of the event was New Nation, New Ideas and as you might expect from people that have been through so much it showcased local stories of overcoming overwhelming odds to bring a nation together and ultimately push things forward.
Imagine never having to look for a parking space ever again. Imagine that from here on out, this problem is solved. Fast-forward to 2025. You’re driving from Brooklyn to Manhattan...because driving in New York City, and everywhere else, has become much simpler a task than it was a decade or so before.
Or has it?
Communities in China use a lot of outdoor furniture. And chairs, laundry, food preparation, morning ablutions all spill out onto the narrow hutong and urban streets. Because they do, everyday people create the infrastructure to support these activities. Much of the furniture is outside year-round, with owners making a minimal effort to keep it protected from the elements. When there is the threat of rain, for instance, they angle chairs against walls to ensure the rain runs off instead of puddling and potentially soaking the wood.
The views expressed here are my own, and not my employer, clients or other stakeholders.
I enjoyed going to the recent Pop!Tech conference—the combination of bright minds, warm hearts and the Maine autumn is highly conducive to reflecting on what has been and imagining on what will be next.
During the event, I gave a talk to the audience about my research work, and in the panel session at the end of my talk I took two questions from a member of the audience relating to personal motivations of doing this kind of research and whether anyone has the moral right to extract knowledge from a community for corporate gain. Given the asker’s frustrated-politeness I’ll paraphrase what I (and a bunch of folks that came up to me after the talk) took as the intent of his questions:
"What’s is like working for BigCorps pillaging the intellect of people around the world for commercial gain?"
"How do you sleep at night as the corporations you work for pump their worthless products into the world?"
Short answer is that I sleep just fine.*
Those with a desire to go beyond the 110 character headlines should draw a fresh mug of their favourite brew, find a comfy armchair, and read on.
The evolving design of the digital devices that are starting to fill our stores and schools will change the way we think, behave, and buy.
There are certain cities around the world where it's possible to learn about tomorrow's technology as it's being developed today. Tokyo -- still -- offers the most tightly integrated infrastructure, where smooth, technology-driven experiences take place when engaging in everyday actions, such as verifying personal identity, paying for goods, and buying tickets. Nairobi is an excellent destination for mobile banking. San Francisco is the center for startup thinking (and doing). And Seoul is the destination for the newest electronic displays, a place where you can immediately get immersed in daring new screen technologies. As we rely more on our smart phones, laptops, and tablet computers to acquire and share information, as we develop sharper and more interactive large-scale electronic signs in stores, on streets, and on billboards, it's worthwhile to look to a city that offers glimpses into the future of global screen culture.
The revolution is right here in front of us; we just can’t see it yet.
Want to find the next big idea? Here’s a counterintuitive way to start:
- First, acknowledge that America is a place where consumers often lag behind the rest of the world when it comes to the mass adoption of new technologies.
- Second, take a step back and look at what innovations have worked outside of the United States.
- Finally, consider how to bring these innovations to American audiences.