The Etiquette of Technology


Overall things don’t replace things. We’re a culture of more and we see evidence of that everywhere, from Costco to our personal technology. According to eMarketer, a third of us now report that the tablet is one of our three favorite devices. One of our three favorites. What is our attitude toward more technology, when do we let go and at what point does new innovation, such as Google Glass, become accepted?

Let’s start with the traditional book. There is nothing wrong with it. In fact, there’s a connection with printed pages, a warmth and an intimacy, that simply doesn’t exist with digital. (Early Kindles do get close.) But today digital pages are just more convenient. And yet the book will not go away because it retains certain experiential advantages. They’re small advantages, but enough not to wipe out the market.

When we look around there’s a sense of wonderfulness to many lo-fi items—from the crackle of a record player to the quirkiness of a Polaroid. It’s not mass-market wonderfulness but such charm too often disappears with superior technology. So we don’t let go, we just limit our use and add new things.

Technology only vanishes when the original invention retains no emotional charm. Like the VCR. Once the DVD arrived there was nothing wonderful that remained with video tape. Cisco was onto this when they discontinued the Flip. Surprising at the time, they knew smartphones would do everything the Flip did and that nothing charming would remain, so why wait?

But we rarely commit to fully letting go. We’re a culture of cupboards, basements and storage units. It takes little effort to hold on to the things we still kind of like and might even use on occasion.

So now we have Google Glass…

Some think it will eventually replace the cellphone but I see it as more of an add on.

When Altimeter Group evaluated the top technologies at SXSW they awarded Google Glass with a “watch” designation. They cited two questions to support this:  how will it work and what will the etiquette be? The latter, I believe, is of equal importance to the former.

In Seattle, the 5 Point Café just banned the use of Google Glass. They simply don’t want their clientele on film without their knowledge. So there’s the privacy etiquette to consider.

There is also the fashion etiquette. When will it be cool to be seen wearing Google Glass? It’s certainly off to a good start with Diane Von Furstenberg.

Perhaps a good analogy is the baseball cap. It started to be seen in the late 1940s, which isn’t all that long ago. Today they are common and we don’t think twice about somebody “wearing a cap.” Unless they’re wearing one at a wedding, or in church, or in a formal office setting. Indeed, some people don’t care and wear hats everywhere, but the majority of us choose when it’s appropriate.

Google Glass will probably go the way of the baseball cap in two notable ways.

First, there will be times when it won’t be acceptable to wear them. This will happen where any amount of privacy is cherished: at the 5 Points Café, in a business meeting, celebrating Christmas eve dinner or enjoying coffee with a friend.

Secondly, we’ll get used to them. Douglas Adams said this best and it’s what always happens with generations and age and their relationship with new technology and innovation:

“1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal; 

2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;

3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.”

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