by adam mathes
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The Instantaneous Photography of the Future

When I see Google Glass, I think of the first time I saw someone using a cell phone.

Portable Phones

The first time I vividly remember someone talking on a cell phone in public was when I was a kid.

I grew up in the suburbs, and this was during the mid-80’s, at a local little league game.

Some kid’s father thought whatever business he was in was worth disturbing everyone else over, and took a call on his phone.

It was one of those comically large “bag phones” – even larger and more ridiculous than what you might think of as an 80’s phone.


And it was infuriating.

It was also scary to think that everybody would probably be using them soon, once they weren’t so bulky and expensive.

Portable Computers

In the 80’s and 90’s I was an early user and proponent of very portable computers – what were variously called personal digital assistants, handheld pc’s, or palmtops.

They were a fraction of the cost of laptops at the time (which mattered for little kid me.)

They were never that popular, but I knew that having a computer with you all the time would – somehow – be important and prevalent, one day.

The idea of a computer you could carry with you in your pocket seemed so captivating to me, so powerful, but it also seemed like something nobody else was interested in.


I didn’t see that the intersection of these two technologies – handheld computers and cellular phones – would invent a new thing – smartphones – and that’s what would bring portable computing to a mass market.

Nor did I foresee how the internet (and web) would be the killer application for them.

(Until I was in college, then it was obvious that the web was a lot more important than whatever my professors were trying to get me excited about, which is why I learned web technology on my own.)

Wearable Computers

When I see people suggesting Google Glass is too socially awkward, I think back to that bag phone and don’t think that’s a great way to gauge the future.

Talking to yourself in public is awkward? Tell that to the guy screaming into his cell phone walking down the street. (Go ahead, he probably won’t even hear you.)

Technological advancements seem to find a way to accelerate changes in social norms when the technology is useful enough.

The Killer App

With wearable computing like Google Glass, I think the “computer” aspect of it is something of a distraction.

In the same way a smartphone isn’t best understood as a phone or a handheld computer but as a “personal communicator” (the communication being text messages, video, social network, and web sites) I think we will come to think of “wearable computers” as something else.

With Google Glass and the like, I imagine we may come to think of them as audio-visual recording tools primarily, and the rest as secondary. Much of the rest we can already do, mostly, and perhaps more easily with other form factor devices.

Always On

The seconds it takes between wanting to take a photo and pulling out a real camera or cellphone, going to the camera application, composing and taking the photo are a huge impediment to documenting our lives as they happen.

The idea of a camera that is always ready to take a photo of exactly what you are looking at seems so powerful to me, with the capacity to change the way we think about photography and videography.

And it’s not hard to take that a step further and imagine an always on camera that has a buffer of the last few minutes – with a single action you mark that frame of time to review later and it’s saved.

And from there the idea of the always recording camera seems feasible too.

Terrifying, awkward, and maybe even confusing, but very exciting.

By reducing the time and friction to take photos and videos and share them, I think Glass (or its successors) could be revelatory for photography.

Will Glass be like a bagphone or a palmtop, something ahead of its time that requires new insights or breakthroughs before its truly useful? Or is it the wearable computing equivalent of the Apple II – bringing decades of research and thought in the area of wearable computers into a consumer product packaged to sell?

I don’t know.

I do think that the always-on camera is a device that will find its way into our society at some point. And I’m excited to try one while also being totally unprepared for the social changes it may bring.

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