Face-furniture’s future

by Bill Ralston / 07 February, 2013
The humble pair of specs is getting a Google makeover.
cartoon by Steve Bolton
“If only I’d spent as much time choosing my investment portfolio as I used to spend picking my lolly mix at the local dairy when I was a kid.” / cartoon by Steve Bolton.

No sooner had I turned 40 than I noticed the world was getting fuzzier. Everyone began to look younger in soft focus, but I was working for TV3 at the time and realised I couldn’t read the autocue on the end of the studio camera. For a while I managed to get by through the simple expedient of having the camera move closer, but I was finally frustrated when the camera lens ended up only a few centimetres from my nose and my face began to expand in a gruesome fisheye effect on screen, traumatising viewers.

I’ve worn glasses now for nearly 20 years and can testify that face-furniture is boring. You have to put the glasses on the minute you get up or risk blindly inserting a toothbrush in your ear. Throughout the day you take them off and then lose them because the world has receded into a blur. Break them and your life is ruined until you take out another mortgage and go to an optician.

Basically, apart from performing one simple function, glasses are an otherwise useless appendage. Well, not any more if Google has its way.

Apparently, Google glasses are in development and may be hitting the market next year. If the gossip is true then Google glasses, which have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity to your phone, will have a “heads-up” display allowing you to read text with one eye while keeping the other eye on the world. Basically you end up with a computer in your eyeball.

You could read an online newspaper or email while walking to work. Though quite how you see where you’re going in one eye while the other is focused close up on the morning’s tidings is beyond me. There’ll be a lot of cross-eyed folk wandering about after a while.

The arms of the glasses will contain “bone conduction headphones” that send sound vibrations through your skull to your inner ear. That is very good.

Some weird genetic defect of my ear canal means standard headphone ear buds are automatically ejected from my ears, popping out seconds after they’re inserted. The bone-conduction technique means while listening to music or a phone conversation you can also hear through your unblocked earhole and thus notice the approaching car honking wildly just before it runs you over.

Less satisfactory is that there is speculation the glasses frames will also one day contain a camera and microphone, enabling you to beam whatever you’re seeing and hearing onto the inter-webby thing. This is a horrible development.

Facebook and Twitter are inane enough without people live-streaming digital video of everything they do during the day. Would you really want to see what I was having for lunch and then watch me laboriously eat it? What happens if you forget to turn off your glasses when you go to the loo? On a good night, with a few drinks under your belt, transmitting inadvertent live online porn is a severe risk.

For that matter, what happens when your wife rings and asks you when you’ll be home?

“I won’t be long, I’m just walking down the road now.”

“No, you’re not. You’re at SPQR with Steve, you’ve had two glasses of red, and stop ogling that woman’s bum.”

The other problem with a computer in your eyeball is, of course, that you cannot have a keyboard on your nose. Apparently, you change the application that is running or the function of the glasses by making swiping motions around your head that are picked up by sensors on the frames. I kid you not.

So, there you are walking down Lambton Quay on the phone, glazed staring eyes, talking to yourself and making wild swipes with your hands.

Good luck with that one – see you in the psycho ward.
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