Returning from SXSW Interactive this year, there was a single thought that kept nagging me: ambient technology. From haptic compasses, geo-fences to NFC-based payment systems, we want our technology to move from something that we control in the forefront to something that we do not have to even think about. Although this is somewhat organic, maybe even expected, technological evolution, is it one that we should continue on at the pace we are?
Are we, as a culture, as a group of individuals, ready for this type of massive change? In my opinion no, we’re not. What are the sociological implications, psychological and physiological implications? Basically are we putting technological advancements before people?
Of course these are things that we consider as we advance, but that does not mean that we can answer that first question, are we actually ready. The base of it is emotional; it is a matter of evolving the collective and individual emotions and relationships with these technologies before there is widespread acceptance or even the desire for them. Our identities are adapting and changing to include devices, networks, and interactions. This web-enabled is something that we would give up showering for apparently (I for one, will take the shower thank you). This is even outside the argument of whether or not internet access is a human right (the UN says it is).
It has come down to the web, the interconnected world that we now take with us everywhere. We’ve all gotten wrapped up in the momentum, the tidal wave, which has taken over our daily lives, but we’re missing the cultural implications and, more importantly, the potential for a backlash.
The web and our hyperconnected devices and lives have become used to openness, sharing. The cultural norms we swim among on a daily basis are changing, but that does not mean that we, human beings, have as well. That is where the potential for backlash is. Now more and more openness, innovation, disruption and change are valued; however, can we accept that when it comes to our personal lives? Our information? Our ‘human data?’
Look at the recent slew of privacy scares and revolts, from Path to Google. The backlash has already begun. We want transparency, openness, but with control. The infinite knowledge on the web empowered us, but we weren’t aware of just how much information we were imparting on the digital world and the companies at the helm. In the same logic then, how can we be ready to accept ambient technologies such as haptic compasses, geo-tag fences, brain-wave controlled devices?
In her keynote at SXSW Interactive this year, Amber Case said that our devices are taking us away from the physical world around us; we’re too wrapped up in the little screens and worlds in the palms of our hands. I completely agree that we are, but by putting technology into the background, enabling it to do the thinking for us might not be the right solution, at least right now.