Wearable Computing and the Etiquette of Presence

It doesn’t take much extrapolation to imagine that wearable computing is going to create a whole new set of social etiquette do’s and don’t’s – and train wrecks.

At the bank, at the gym, on plant sites, in meetings – everyone should be prepared for a barrage of “leave your wearable devices at the door” rules being handed down.

For good reason.

Society isn’t prepared for the ubiquity of being “always on” that wearable computing hastens – just ask anyone who has said something ill-advised near an open recording device.

For your consideration: the “explorer” model of Google Glass has no indicator that video is being recorded. Let that sink in. It will be practically impossible to detect when you’re being recorded by someone wearing Google Glass (as currently constructed).

Further, being based upon Android practically guarantees that Google Glass will be rooted; in fact, it already has. Glass was successfully rooted this week, after being available to “explorers” for only a handful of days.

I’m not purposely trying to pile on Google. Their device is simply one of the first – of many – devices that will change our view of privacy and personal space, forever. What I am saying is that just because we have the technical capability to do something amazing, it doesn’t follow that we have thought through completely what this will mean for us as a community and as individuals.

And that ultimately, it may not be a good “thing” at all.

As the development of new accepted norms have followed the disruption caused by cell phones and other mobile devices, so too will new norms be created to accomodate wearable computing.

But the problem is, the level and depth of penetration of social disruption that wearable computing brings is an order of magnitude greater than anything caused by the current state-of-the-art in mobile computing. When someone is recording us with a cell phone, we see them do it and can acquiesce or decline. With wearable computing, normative social cues aren’t there. At least not yet.

Besides privacy, there are also issues of personal security and well being that will be challenged. Is a registered sex offender recording my children? Is my ex-spouse recording everything I do, and everyone I talk to? Is my conversation with a trusted colleague really confidential?

The challenges are many. The time to start thinking about these issues is immediately, if not sooner.

Ready or not, the future is now. And we need to get Miss Manners – and George Orwell – on speed dial, stat.

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