The varying benefits of future wearables

When a disruptive new communication technology comes along, different subpopulations are affected differently. For example, the Web and the SmartPhone had very different impacts on people aged 18-25 than they had on people 65 and older.

These technologies did not necessarily have a greater impact on one of these age groups or the other, all things considered. But they certainly had a different impact.

I’ve been thinking about this in the context of ubiquitous wearables, which will be forthcoming sometime in the next few years. Let’s fast forward a bit and consider the imminent technical landscape.

With the wearables that will become widely available in the next four years or so, you will be able to see a high quality wide angle digital image overlaid upon your visual field, properly registered to the world around you. Furthermore, this overlay will be modulated by software that will make powerful inferences about the people and objects you can see.

If you are a young person, you might find the greatest utility in the improved opportunities this will afford for social networking. Conversations can be augmented by shared games and other entertainment, and you will be able to maintain multiple simultaneous channels of private discussion, even during face to face conversations within a group. The awkward “social signaling” required to send or receive a private text within a social situation will go away. And the boundary between local and remote social interactions will become even more blurred than it is now.

If you are a senior citizen, a lot of the things that you may now find troublesome will become easier and less stressful. You will receive unobtrusive help in finding your way through difficult to navigate places and in recalling the names and identities of people you haven’t seen in a while, as well as private reminders of when to take a pill or what items to pick up at the grocery store. Your astigmatism or myopia will be automatically corrected by a single pair of glasses, even as your prescription changes over time. Small or dimly lit text will automatically enlarge and become easier to read.

Of course some benefits will accrue equally to everyone. For example, signs in foreign languages will be automatically translated and rendered readable to all. Train and bus schedules, preferred travel routes, listings of movie and theater times, restaurant seatings, warnings about food allergies, these will become instantly available just by looking. People of all ages will wonder how folks in earlier eras, deprived of such conveniences, had ever managed to get through the day.

As with all previous disruptive media technologies, wearables will have a profound effect on our everyday reality. But also as with all previous such disruptions, the particular effect on you may vary, depending on your needs.

2 Responses to “The varying benefits of future wearables”

  1. J. Peterson says:

    This is already happening; most people of high-school age or younger have never had to deal with a paper map or train schedule.

    On the more general topic: An early case study for wearables, Google Glass, was a flop. While their were many issues, a primary one was its ability to record made wearing it unwelcome in many social situations. I suspect Glass’s designers didn’t anticipate this problem. It’ll be interesting to see what other surprising issues await.

  2. admin says:

    Very good point about high-school age and younger. I am in total agreement. Yet there is a real difference between needing to look at your phone to get information and being able to see that information as soon as you request it, or your preferred A.I. infers that you need it, already in your field of view.

    By analogy, theoretically you could make all of your calls from a payphone, yet many things changed after the phone could be with you wherever you were. I see analogous (although different, of course) changes happening when we won’t even need to look at a phone to get information from the shared digital world.

    There are many issues around why Google Glass was not widely adopted, whereas everybody seems to love Snap Spectacles. The difference between those two products deserves a longer discussion.

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