Sunday, May 4, 2014

Beware, with fear and trembling, for the monster awakes

I have not posted on this blog for four years. There are many reasons for this, and many reasons why it doesn't matter.

But fear me, for I shall attempt to take up the blogging pen again.

Why am I doing this? That is an excellent question. I'm not sure I have an excellent answer. Part of it has to do with the muse awaking in me, crawling and begging to get her thoughts out somewhere, anywhere. Part of it has to do with having a place to write down big, long arguments so I can get them out, try them on for size, see where I have left big, gaping holes, etc. Part of it has to do with me looking at the tech industry and seeing .... a whole lot of nothing.

Lately I have been less than impressed with what is coming out of the tech industry. Oh, I have read numerous posts about the Internet of Things, and I cannot help but think, over and over again, "This company is trying to sell a product as new and improved by adding a network port, some programming, and that's it. The base product itself hasn't changed a bit."

I am not saying that innovation has died. Far from it. But I haven't yet seen much that has made me be very impressed with any company. Or any product.

Let's take my favorite punching bag right now: smart watches. I want to go back and look at the genesis of watches and how they became the ubiquitous tools they were for several decades, but I am not yet in a position to do this. And as much as I admire Pebble for making a first stab at smart watches, I cannot help but think: all these things are are pared-down phones or gussied-up speakers. Some of them can make phone calls. Some can read emails or text messages. But none of them are doing what the iPhone did when it first came out: combine several devices into one holistic and useful unit. Instead, now we are pulling features out of a product and trying to make it fit on a wrist. Why?

Let me answer that with a bit of my own experience. I wore a watch for decades. I loved having a waterproof watch when I was swimming, and I needed to make sure I was where I needed to be when the children depended on me for transportation, food, and help for homework. Being able to simply look down at my wrist and verify the time was useful.

Now, like many people, I don't have a watch. I use the cell phone in my pocket. But I see one big drawback to this: I get very tired of having to pull my phone out of my pocket every single solitary time I need to check the time. It takes far more effort, as compared to just looking at my wrist. And apparently a lot of folks are having the same experience--otherwise, I don't see why there would be this rush to bring back the watch.

But having a watch that is just a watch and just tells time seems lame to us now. Before the smart phones, watches started adding stopwatches, alarms, and timers to make them more useful. We do all these things now with our smart phones. So we are trying to make watches smarter as well. We want to use them to track fitness, alert us of alarms we have on our phones, and warn us of that urgent text that must--must!--be seen immediately.

But functionally, it isn't the fact that we want to tell time that is pushing these new breed of watches--it is the real estate on our arms that is currently unused and, once, was a useful place to store necessary information, like the time. There are many people like me who want to have smart devices but get frustrated having to take them out of pockets constantly in order to access the information. So the thought is to return a form factor that we recognize--the watch--and repurpose it to add more gadgets and gizmos rather than just an alarm.

In some respect, this is what Google Glass is doing as well. It is taking advantage of unused real estate on our face and before our eyes and using it as a way to make that information accessible without having to pull items out of our pockets.

So the problem here isn't the watch, or Google Glass, or anything like that--

The problem is where our devices are residing. In pockets, hidden.

If we could somehow always have our devices in some area of our visual space without having to reach into pockets or purses into order to grab them, it would be a huge win for everyone who wants it.

So how can we do this? Right now, I have no idea. In some ways I think Google Glass is creating a portable heads-up display, and I think that addresses some of these issues. But there is already a bad rep developing for Google Glass and the glassholes who wear them. That's a problem. That tells me that we don't want the tech to be that visible.

Having contacts that embed a display device in them sounds like a better solution--you can see what is going on with your device, but no one else can and no one can tell (without getting a little too far inside your personal space) that you have any device on. That sounds like a better solution, but there are many folks like me who cannot wear contacts. So it won't work for everyone. Now a few more interations of Google Glass, and we may reach the point where the technology is also hidden and you can't tell it's there. But that isn't the case now.

Part of me cannot help but think of the full-arm device that Chuck's father wore in the TV series Chuck. Played by Scott Bakula, he had a device that was really a miniature computer (this was the early part of the 21st century, recall) that was worn on his forearm and took up all the space between the wrist and the elbow and had a tiny screen in it. I don't think that is the solution.

I don't think Siri is a solution, yet--not until we have earpieces that allow us to hear Siri alone and vocal processors that allow us to talk without making a sound, and thus avoid irritating all the folks sitting around us on the bus and subway. (Don't get me wrong; I love Siri and other voice interfaces, even when they misunderstand me. But I really hate talking about private stuff in public.)

So somewhere, somehow, there is room for improvement in all this. So far, I'm not convinced the watch is the way to go.


  1. Brain implants.
    Solves all the problems except for those folks that will refuse to have a chip put in their head. (I will be one of those. I don't want to be -that- connected.)
    I like the idea of creating a HUD display on my glasses.

    Syrah Shiraz

  2. Someone has already started putting implants into his body and at least one into his brain. He is trying to recreate himself so he can interface directly with his computer--I think. I haven't read about him lately, because I get rather grossed out by the surgeries required to do this.
    I don't know if he is trying to emulate Barclay from ST: TNG or if he is a transhumanist. All I know is that he is intentionally breaching the boundary that has been laid. Personally, I'm not comfortable with that. I like technology, and I like it when I get to benefit from it--perhaps in the future when I will get to have a replacement pancreas when mine dies. But I'm not ready for it to cross the border with my brain. That seems like a big no-no.

  3. And thanks for the comment!

  4. Any connection to the brain is a two-way connection. You have to be able to always trust the person/people at the other end of the connection. I don't have that much trust in me.

    Syrah Shiraz


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