By Dan Moren
February 29, 2016 12:01 PM PT
The Back Page: Depersonal tech
Personal technology: that’s the whole ballgame. As the years have gone by, our devices have gotten increasingly personal. We went from machines the size of a city block, to those that sat on our desk, to those that sat on our laps, to those that fit in our pocket, and now to those that strap on our wrist or we wear on our face.
In some ways it’s fitting that the Apple Watch is the current culmination of personal technology. After all, a century ago, the most complex piece of technology most people could carry with them was a watch, although one composed of intricate cogs and gears instead of silicon. We’ve essentially come full circle.
So now what? If the trend towards ever more personal devices continues, then it seems like the only ground left after wearables are things that we actually integrate into ourselves: contact lenses, implants, nano-technology, and so on. Those categories of devices will likely have a much higher threshold for adoption, though. Sure, you might be willing to use a smart contact lens if you’re inured to the process of sticking something into your eye, but as someone who hasn’t had that distinct pleasure yet, I feel like I’m probably going to pass.
That’s not to say those technologies won’t exist; I’m sure they will. If the success of the smartphone is any indication, people crave constant connection at their fingertips.
But it’s not without its risks, and I’m not just talking about health or regulation. Too much information and too much connectedness can definitely be a bad thing, especially when it takes our attention away from the people right in front of us.
If you think it’s bad enough when people pull out their phone or glance at their watch when you’re talking to them, how much worse is it going to be when you can’t even tell if they’re looking at you or not? I imagine an entire generation of kids constantly recording their interactions with others, then quickly replaying the buffer of the last five seconds when their parents ask in frustration “Are you even listening?” After all, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
So maybe there’s a point where technology gets just personal enough, not unlike the uncanny valley that affects robots and computer animation. That might be a controversial stance for a technology writer and enthusiast to take, but given all that’s been written recently about frustrations with Twitter, I think it’s clear that there is such a thing as technological overload. When technology gets too personal, we run the risk that it ends up depersonalizing us.
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The latest novel in his Galactic Cold War series of sci-fi space adventures, The Nova Incident, is available now.]