Thursday, April 12, 2012

Talking to the Terminator

Here come Google goggles.  “Wearable computing.”  Soon, we’ll be able to wear glasses that put internet access right in front of our eyes no matter where we go.  We’ll have online real time access to the World Wide Web and all its distracting, addicting content. Just like the Terminator. 

The Terminator had an agenda, as you may recall.  Even if he focused on you for a moment or two, you couldn’t flatter yourself that such a hunk of meat was interested in you.  It had nothing to do with you, unless of course you happened to be John Connor.  Or his mom.  His dispassionate computer eyeball was constantly gauging, measuring, calculating, and assessing.  If you didn’t have something he wanted, look out.  In fact, look out if you did. 

Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin’s picture is in the paper showing him wearing a pair of the “augmented reality” glasses.  Ostensibly, he’s in a conversation with a fellow attendee at a charity dinner in San Francisco.   

He’s looking at the other guy.  That is to say, his eyes seem to be pointed in the direction of the man who’s standing in front of him.  But we recognize his expression.  Like the Terminator, he’s glazed over, flat, expressionless.  He’s not involved in the topic at hand.  No, he’s engrossed in something else, maybe today’s Nasdaq, or a trailer for “Hunger Games.”  

He presents a portrait of that most maddening of situations, the one where you’ve been talking with someone about something you have in common, say your interest in the bags o’ dough you carry to the bank each day.  But gradually you realize mid-sentence that if ever he was attentive to you, he’s not anymore.   

He’s retreated into his own more appealing world.  He’s pretending, badly, that you matter.  Probably nodding on occasion and saying the requisite “uh huh.”  But don’t fool yourself, he’s gone.  No longer in the moment.  Now you’re the hunk of meat. 

Thanks a lot, Google.  Another web zombie in our midst. 

In truth, each of us has taken on degrees of web zombie-ism.  To a greater or lesser extent each day we join the ranks of the internet undead, arms and hands upraised, rocking in our chairs, staring expressionless at a point in cyberspace.   

Fewer and fewer of us display the badge of techno dinosaur.  It just doesn’t play.  We’ll dispatch a text from a phone with big buttons if we must, to stay in the game, to be cool.   

And therein lies the downside:  We’re not cool.  We’re not Terminators.  Not even old generation Terminators.  Humans can’t give adequate attention to two things at once.  Young folks aren’t that good either.  None of us are machines.  Not computers.  Not fast, not really.  Not mentally or physically able to multitask with the tiny powerhouses we hold in our hands and soon will wear on our faces, between ourselves and the world. 

I read recently that thumbing out an average text takes a driver’s eyes off the road for five seconds.  At fifty miles per hour, five seconds equals a football field.  Wow.  That’s dicey. 

Not that I text and drive anyway.  I gave it up early on when I confirmed I was a hazard using my cell phone while sitting at a stop light.  That’s right.  Feeling superior and responsible, I waited until I rolled to a full and complete stop in the line of cars at the light.  Only then did I pick up my cell phone to make a superficial and unimportant call, just like everyone else, only better.   

I pecked out the number of my voice mail, and while listening to my very own outgoing message, I unconsciously eased my foot off the brake and rolled ever so gently into the bumper of the car ahead of me.  

No real harm done.  The driver of the bumped bumper just waved me away.  The light had turned green and she seemed to take the bump as a nudge to get moving.  I think she had her iPhone in her waving hand.  That’s how we’ll interact in the virtual future.   

We’ll let our Google goggles slip down our noses and look over them at flesh and blood intrusions into our augmented reality.  Pause.  Assess.  Wave and move on.