Always absent

Google Glass

Glass, Google’s nascent wearable computing platform, endures its fair share of ridicule. The device looks clunky and awkward, even when embedded in traditional prescription eyewear.

But future versions of Glass will make the technology more attractive. I’m not worried about fashion faux pas; I’m more worried about human presence.

We’re already hyper-distracted. Our smartphones stave off boredom everywhere we go: on the subway, in line, on the toilet. Even when we’re with our loved ones, we can’t resist the temptation to sneak hits from our glowing pocket rectangles. Our propensity to be “present but absent” has led to some ingenious new social rules governing when to ignore your iPhone.

But what happens when you can’t ignore that screen? Google Glass’ heads-up-display rules your peripheral vision. When it’s turned on, your field of view includes a constant stream of Twitter @replies, text messages, and app notifications. With that visual cacophany scrolling by, can you ever really be present with those around you? And if your everyday eyewear accommodates Glass, such that you can’t take it off, don’t you risk normalizing a state of constant distraction? Aren’t you training your brain to crave distraction—to flit from snippet to snippet, from topic to topic? In a culture where literacy continues to erode, doesn’t Google Glass threaten to accelerate the decline of your endangered attention span?

Meanwhile, wearing Google Glass retrains your friends and family, too. Companions can’t tell if you’re really with them or not. They come to resent your spacey, not-quite-focused stare. After all, the dongle hanging from your face serves as a depressing reminder: you don’t find them interesting enough to occupy your full attention.