Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Problem

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle says you can’t measure something without altering it.

Last night, I had dinner with dear friends and in those sweet moments when the kids did something cute, we stopped, got out our phones, launched the camera apps, waited a second, and tried to snap the perfect pic. Then there was emailing, Instagraming, and the rest.

Wouldn’t it be nice if such things happened in the background without altering the event itself? I tell my fridge, “Make this cold” and it just works. Can’t I just tell something, “Capture this moment” without it getting in the way?

Google’s Solution: Project Glass

This morning, Google released a product concept video demo of “Project Glass” which are a pair of glasses that can tell its wearer about the weather, schedule meetings, snap photos, and handle voice and video chat.

It’s all very cool stuff and, other than the unsightliness of wearing such glasses, I’d love to give them a try. As long as it had an API that would allow me to add a Greek Bible concordance, I’d be on board in a second.

Technology in the background or the forefront?

I’m sure there are all kinds of horrible and distracting things that one could do with such glasses, but for a moment I’m more interested in whether Google’s project is a possible answer to making everyday modern technology fade into the background. Will it allow the functions of today’s smartphones to finally reach the last step of Chris Ridgeway‘s the Toy → Tool → Environment progression?

Would such a device allow you to do modern tasks like getting driving directions, checking the weather, videoing the kids, and making meeting requests in a way that’s as simple and thoughtless as putting milk in the fridge, or are these tasks fundamentally more complex than “milk in the fridge” such that they will always intrude somewhat into whatever’s happening?

Imagine that the glasses were not so hideous and could be installed as a contact lens. Would that make these tasks fade into the background of life or would their immediate constant presence make them play an even more prominent role? Would the glasses make technology fade into the background or would the technology make reality fade into the background?

Adapting

Of course, time will tell, and things never quite result in the either/or scenarios I’ve presented above. These things are tough to predict, because it always takes a bit of time before individuals and society as as whole have adjusted to the new ways of living technology introduces.

If I were to buy one, I’d probably start by turning everything on (RSS, email, etc.). After a few days of overload and beginning to freak out a little, I’d probably starting turning most of the features off. Then over time, my mind would begin to adjust adapting itself to the glasses and the information they present, allowing me to slowly re-add features.

And then, only after using it for a some time would I be able to articulate exactly how I and the tool have adapted to one another. I would have to be honest and say that I literally look at things differently than before, but then I would do my best to create disciplined strategies for handling the overload.

In the end, I’d probably conclude that as cool as these gadgets are, some things, in truth many things, are best experienced “glasses off.”

Update: Of course, this might happen too: