In listening to all the excitement and grudging of Google Glass, the main use people seem to be trumpeting is that of the recording capabilities. This is the cause of people's respective dreams and nightmares as they pertain to Glass, apparently. This is followed by the use case of notifications: because I absolutely need a heads up display to inform me of the fact that so-and-so has challenged me on Words with Friends. Or that my Google alert for EVE Online mega-wars has gone off. Or that someone just Instagrammed my dog. These are the things that get people excited about and depressed about Google Glass.
The actually terrifyingly depressing thing about this is not the recordings or notifications themselves, believe it or not. No, it's the idea that this. Is. It. These are the things that have come to define mobile interaction: our constant need to record everything, the idea that every activity is a potential checkin, and, of course, rebranding interruptions as “notifications.” There is nothing quite so indicative of the mobile revolution as the way we feel almost itchy when we feel our phones buzz because something, somewhere, has happened, something that we think we want to know about. What is so depressing is, that after so many years of talk – designers intoxicated by the idea of a frontier rush, entrepreneurs with hungry dollar-sign eyes, developers who finally get to think beyond the web... After all this, we still feel like we've barely touched the surface of mobile interactions, but the reality of mobile interactions have already been defined. Whatever comes on top of it, the carbon bonds of mobile are there, and carbon bonds are boring.
When I think back five years and try to think of what we imagined in our future of wearable electronic contact lenses, I can't help but feel that same euphoric sense of possibility: A pair of ski goggles that automatically adjust contrast so whiteouts are a thing of the past. Whatever crazy view that doctors need to perform their robotic surgeries. The lecture hall filled with students getting Powerpoint on steroids. The app that directs me to the best subway car. Whatever better ideas that you can come up with. That image is giddy, exciting, whatever.
But I question whether many of this will come true: will people care about efficiency enough to wear their Google Glasses to save thirty seconds on the train? Will teachers really allow students to wear these glasses in lecture halls? The limiting factor of classrooms is human attention, and judging by how my own middle school classes managed to distract themselves with calculators, I remain skeptical. Maybe the doctor thing, I don't know enough about being a doctor.
So, it's possible that none of this comes to pass. Perhaps it will, perhaps it won't. If platforms are mature when we know what to do with them, perhaps mobile is a mature platform. And Glass, for all its fanfare, may just be an extension of mobile. But luckily for Google, even if Glass is just another mobile interface, Google Glasses will continue to matter. As boring as it is, recording and notifications are a big deal. And Google Glass happens to be an exceptionally wonderful interface for at least one of these things – as far as I can tell, Google Glass makes a really fucking cool camera. I'm not completely convinced about the Glass potential as a display screen (this will be part II), but as a camera, the Glass form factor is interesting. I suspect it will do for many everyday situations what the GoPro camera has done for extreme sports. Situations where people had to choose between being an outside observer (recorder) or participant are suddenly simpler: Google Glass blurs that line between recording and participating. For many, this will be the perfect camera: the camera that lets one record everything, seamlessly.
Like it or not, what is important in our mobile world is simple: the more things we can record, the more moments we can save and snap and share, the happier we are. It isn't sexy, but it's what we want.