Geek Vs Geek: Google Glass: Revolutionary Tech, or a Gimmicky Fad?

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Even if you aren’t a geek, it’s hard to avoid Google Glass, that wearable computer masquerading as a pair of glasses. Is Google leading the way towards a bold new world of tech that becomes part of your clothing, or is it an expensive, dorky, and misguided shot into the dark night of the future?

Once a month, eHow Tech editor Dave Johnson faces off against Rick Broida, who writes about technology for CNET, PC World, and Wired. Follow along as they tackle this question from opposing corners.

Rick: Google Glass. A $1,500 pair of non-prescription glasses with an on-demand heads-up display so you can focus your attention on whatever information you consider more important than what you’re currently doing: driving, conversing, performing open-heart surgery, and so on. Yay, another distraction! This is the beginning of the end for society as we know it.

Dave: No, the zombie apocalypse is the beginning of the end of society as we know it. Google Glass is a way for me to watch clips from “The Walking Dead” while I pretend to have a conversation with you. See? Much better.

Rick: Right, and I suspect you’ll be among the Falling Dead when you fail to notice that open manhole cover while walking down the street. You’ll be among the Freeway Pileup Dead when you start reading e-mail during your next road trip. And you’ll be the Talking Dead when your wife realizes you’ve tuned her out during dinner conversation. Yep, you heard it here first: Google Glass will kill us all! Well, mostly you.

Dave: Okay, so putting aside the fact that you somehow think I’m going to become Chris Hardwick’s Walking Dead after-show, let’s talk Glass. Yes, it’s expensive. You obviously have to be a die-hard geek to invest that much money in a pair today, and it’s hardly even an issue because getting a pair is by invitation only. But it’s truly the future of computing. Do you think that people will check Twitter or driving directions on their phone 50 years from now? No, it’ll be displayed on their contact lenses or injected directly into their brains. Glass is a preview of the absolutely inevitable future.

Rick: No, it’s an experiment in technology, much the way that virtual-reality glasses were back in the 90s. And now that we’re all wearing VR helmets–oh, right, no we’re not. Trust me, no one wants to wear glasses who doesn’t have to. And people who have to don’t want ugly frames and added bulk. They certainly don’t want to have to keep their glasses charged from day to day. I’ll admit to being fascinated by Google Glass from a technology standpoint, but I’ve yet to hear any compelling reasons I’d want to lug it around on my head all day. You have some, I assume?

Dave: What aspect of reading my words eludes you? Sometimes, talking to you is like Ripley telling Weyland-Yutani executives about an alien infestation on LV-426. As I just said, Google Glass is an early prototype of what will someday be far sleeker and more sophisticated, eventually becoming completely invisible. But even today, in its primitive state, Glass has some awesome applications. When I got to play with a pair, I was really taken by a recipe app that displayed instructions in the corner of my eye so I could work in the kitchen with both hands free — and not get a recipe book or iPad covered in flour and butter.

Rick: Ah, so once again, instead of addressing my points, you fall back to your standard cite-obscure-movie-references-to-make-yourself-seem-cooler position. Sadly, there aren’t enough obscure movie references in the world to accomplish that. The recipe thing sounds neat, Betty Crocker, but not $1,500’ worth of neat. I’ve never been in favor of forcing technology into places just because you can, and except for keeping your apron clean, you still haven’t given me any compelling real-world examples of how Google Glass will justify its price or hassle-factors. Also, how will I find it when it becomes completely invisible?

Dave: It boggles my mind that you believe Aliens is an obscure movie. Your cinematic illiteracy notwithstanding, I love the principle that Glass represents — always-on, pervasive access to information without fumbling for any kind of gadget. If you aren’t intrigued by that, you surely must hate technology. In addition to what Glass lets you do out of the box — navigation, picture taking, web searching, sending emails and text, and more — you can browse apps for a ton of other capabilities. Certainly, some Glass apps are gratuitous (like the one that lets you control your Nest thermostat). But scroll the list and you’ll see many apps that are genuinely handy to put in your field of vision, hands-free. The bottom line is that you just dislike computer-y things, because electricity is new and scary. I’ll get off your lawn, grandpa, and I’ll take my frightening computertronic eyeglasses with me.

Rick: Aliens is, of course, not an obscure movie. But your reference was. Your bad referencing is going to get us all killed! Just like Google Glass. Seriously, though, my biggest objection is what this always-on pervasiveness will do to everyday interaction. I’ve sat across the table from you. You can’t go two minutes without looking at your phone, your smartwatch, etc. With Google Glass on your head, you’ll be like a kitten faced with an ever-bouncing ball of yarn. And that’s what these specs are: shiny, distracting toys. Just what everyone needs!

Dave: I hope you’re not judging new products and technology based on how potentially distracting they are. If so, then I assume you don’t own a smartphone, television, or a window. And I trust you’ve paid an auto shop to remove the radio from your car. Let’s face it: Every time a new technology comes along, we have to learn, as a society, how it fits in, and what the etiquette is for using it around other people. Just because Google Glass (and the increasingly sophisticated wearable technologies that will follow it) haven’t been through that break-in period yet, that doesn’t mean it’s terrible or going to usher in the apocalypse. But strap in, because whatever comes after Glass is going to be incredible.

Who won? We’d love to hear from you. Weigh in with your opinion in the comments, or tweet @davejoh.

What other tech topics would you like to see Dave and Rick discuss? Send your ideas to Dave via Twitter @davejoh. And if you follow Dave, he promises to come to your home and explain something techy to your dad.

And hey, have a question about tech? You can talk directly to one of our nerds and get an answer right away.

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