Monday, March 04, 2013

With Our Fingers Gliding Effortlessly over Glass

I wonder what the current turn-around time is for a technology to progress from the novelty of the cutting-edge then onto the utility of the mainstream before being relegated as an nostalgic affectation? It seems to be an ever-decreasing time span.

Once any technology becomes superseded it can move along a broad cultural path taking it from utility to anachronism, relegated to hobbyist affectation and collector’s item, and then occasionally adopted again in some degree of ironic re-appropriation. Just watch the recent documentary ‘Linotype’ to follow the story of how a once all-pervasive and near-indispensable piece of technological infrastructure from the early twentieth century eventually became financially worthless and finally consigned to an artisanal ghetto of retro print-fetishists.

At a more general level, think of all the people who still pride themselves on their nostalgic preference for paperback books over ebooks. With the most vocal nostalgists often generally citing the various tactile qualities of the carrier mechanism. (There is even an identified and named subset of dead-tree advocates whose book-reading preference is based on the smell of paper.) There is an unpredictable nature to the factors that we humans can choose to imprint our preferences onto.

So if today’s dominant touch-based user-interface paradigm for mobile computing is ever superseded by the inbound generation of novel context-aware wearable tech, currently exemplified by Google’s Glass product and Apple’s rumoured wristband device, I wonder how long it would be before we will then have to experience a trailing wave of nostalgia for today’s technology.

If those novel forms of wearable technology do ever achieve mainstream adoption, we will then have to endure a vanguard of people waxing nostalgic about the days when their fingers lovingly caressed highly-engineered glass all day long. There surely will be conversations about how they miss having the physical heft of a solid piece of metal in their hands. While not forgetting the good old days when they could readily use their smartphones as torches in a pinch. “Now, none of you youngsters could do that with a pair of computerised glasses or with an AI-augmented wristband…”

(I suppose that, at some point in the future, I myself might eventually lose my early-adopter impulse. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that I could someday find myself as a touch-computing throwback, operating in an augmented-reality world.)