Google unveiled its augmented reality 'Project Glass' goggles earlier this week, and the blogosphere feverishly set about salivating and speculating, as the blogosphere tends to do whenever high profile tech products are announced.
The concept behind augmented reality glasses has been around for a while, so the biggest news was the cute video and the fact that it's Google we're talking about here. And that augmented reality goggles might actually be available on mass market soonish.
So what would that mean, down the line? Are there sustainability implications here? I think there are. And they occurred to me as I was watching Jonathan McIntosh's funny parody vid/prediction of what Project Glass will actually end up looking like:
Ads everywhere. The video inspired, approximately, the following chain reaction of responses:
-Well, sure, that's probably what it would look like, if the thing were ad-powered, as all of Google's innovations tend to be.
-Shit. That's kind of bleak. A world with ads plastered over our periphery no matter where we turn our heads.
Think about it. Sure, it's creepy, at first, to consider the prospect of ads being beamed directly into your brain, from a few millimeters away from your face. For ads to be virtually overlaid on everyday items, to coexist with your very reality. But again, that's pretty much what's already happening. Ads are already everywhere we look: billboards, packaging, our smart phones, webpages, magazines, takeout food, soda cans, etc, etc, etc.
But in a world where augmented reality reigns supreme, the incentive for all that material advertising diminishes. If an app can simply broadcast an image of Best Buy onto the side of a building, where's the need to build expensive billboards or ad installations? This could feasibly eliminate a good deal of material waste, and provide incentives for blank slate reusable goods, too. A reason that soda companies ditched the fountain model, for instance, is that carrying around cans of Coke is good advertising for Coke. But presumably, with augmented reality capable of broadcasting an image of Coke onto any old glass, that incentive becomes less important.
Apart from that, augmented reality could also prove to be a boon for mass transit, as was (sort of) showcased in the demo above, as it could better inform denizens about available options, collect data on departure and arrival times, and generally make the experience more efficient and user-friendly. Of course, you'd have to pay for that information by allowing some of your reality to be cluttered by ads.
I'm still a little creeped out by McIntosh's take on a Google-friendly augmented reality, but not for the reason I initially thought I was—it has highlighted again just how much of our experience we already surrender to advertising, how integral it is to the aesthetics of daily life. Bluntly put, it's a sharp reminder of how much time and stuff we waste trying to sell each other things we don't need.