Mixed realities

I remember when the first Bluetooth-enabled hands-free phones started showing up in New York City. I would be walking along Washington Square North, and pass by one person after another who appeared to be talking to themselves.

Seeing people talking to themselves in New York City was not at all a new phenomenon. The streets of New York, like the streets of many major cities, are filled with people who live in an alternate reality all their own.

But until the arrival of hands-free phones, you always knew that people who talked to themselves were exhibiting some form of schizophrenic behavior. After the arrival of those phones, it wasn’t so simple.

When people walked by me apparently talking to themselves, I found myself checking out how they were dressed. That was usually the most reliable way to figure out whether I was passing a lost homeless soul wandering within their own private universe or a yuppy investor making a business deal on the way to their power lunch.

Something similar is going to happen once mixed reality wearables become ubiquitous. More and more people are going to be walking down the street looking at things that nobody else can see, and gesturing in the air. Some of these people will be talking to actual other people, enabled by the latest technology. Others will just be living in their own imaginary worlds.

At some point the eyewear involved will look indistinguishable from ordinary eyeglasses. After that, if you want to figure out who is who, I guess you will just need to trust your fashion sense.

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