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As I’m fond of saying, we are all bionic now. We have offloaded memory, navigation and other functions to our smartphones and cloud-connected devices. What wearable technologies really represent is the second wave of mass-adoption bionics. How we adapt and respond to this rapid advance is going to need some thought.
This morning I was up at the Beeb, talking about Peaches Geldof’s Twitter gaffe. It was striking that someone apparently bright and educated, who has worked in the media, can have the nous to acquire 160,000 followers but not to recognise when her Tweets might be illegal. And worse, that they might be damaging to the future lives of two innocent infants.
But I don’t necessarily lay all the blame at her door.
Digital social media is a new technology. We are still adapting our behaviours to its existence and learning our way around its flaws, laws and possibilities. Arguably we haven’t yet got to grips with email — also a social media by many definitions. Etiquette for this now-antiquated form of digital communication continues to evolve, driven in part by changing modes of access.
Writing on the wall
Every new media has had a challenging introduction. Read Tom Standage’s excellent ‘Writing on the Wall’ for the full story, but from the advent of the letter through the printing press, it has always taken time for societies and governments to catch up with the implications of new technologies.
Hence the fear generated by Google Glass and other coming wearables. It took Peaches Geldof seconds to tap out a series of law-breaching tweets. But at least she had to withdraw the phone from her pocket first and unlock it: a small window in which to consider her actions. Imagine what she could do with a camera strapped to her head and the ability to tweet a stream of consciousness straight from her lips.
Life on camera
I don’t think people are scared of the possibility that someone wearing their tech could be surreptitiously streaming pictures straight to the web. I think they’re scared of the fact that people will. It is going to take at least at least a decade after wearable tech becomes the norm before we get to a recognisable set of rules, defined enough for us to be able to say confidently what is acceptable and what is not. Codifying those rules into laws will likely take another decade.
If that sounds like a long time, bear in mind it is now a decade since the launch of MySpace and I’m still regularly asked to advise and instruct on the use of social media. Though Facebook is ubiquitous, Twitter and LinkedIn are used by fewer than a quarter of people in the UK. I see behaviour I think is odd on all three networks all the time, but rarely do I consider the incidents so clearly outside any accepted ‘rules’ as to upbraid the perpetrator. Others are either more confident or happier to sit in judgement, but the fact remains: we are still learning.
Wearable faux pas
I was one of those people who happily rocked a Bluetooth headset back in the early noughties, until I realised (and others gleefully pointed out) that I looked like a dick. Unless you’re a secret service agent, you do not need to be in hands-free contact at all times. I will also sport any wearable tech I can get my hands on until we decide as a society what works and what doesn’t, what is cool and what isn’t, what is acceptable and what is beyond the pale. I will do so in the knowledge that it is a learning process and mistakes are part of that process. And while everything settles down, I won’t criticise others for their errors, as long as they don’t repeat them. Even if I think, as in the case of Peaches Geldof, they really should know better.