Smartphones are everywhere, and smartwatches are poised to follow. Techies are eying Google Glass. And we now wear our technology on our sleeve. Have we finally reached gadget overload? CIO.com senior writer Tom Kaneshige isn't afraid to say, 'Enough!'
We’ve just seen Samsung take the wraps off its Galaxy Gear Smartwatch. Next week, Apple will showcase new iPhones and maybe an iWatch. The biggest buzz still surrounds Google Glass, which one financial analyst says will be worth $3.27 billion in 2017.
Everyone seems to be drinking the Kool-Aid, but no one wants to point out the obvious: We’re nearing tech gadget fatigue.
Of course, who wants to go on record saying Google Glass will be a flop? They might end up as the next Steve Ballmer spouting off foolish prognostications on Youtube for digital eternity. In truth, the gadget wasteland is littered with recent failures, some of them dead on arrival. Motorola Xoom. HP Touchpad. BlackBerry Playbook. Microsoft Surface.
More failures are on the horizon, too, as a plethora of gadgets hit the market this year. Check out this infographic by the team at financesonline.com showing a flood of consumer tech product releases and expected releases this year. They can’t all be hits.
So let’s get back to Google Glass and make a prediction: It’s going to fail.
Common sense tells us that Google Glass is just plain silly. No one but a tech geek hardened by years of ridicule will wear it. Not only will people look at him suspiciously, they might get annoyed and maybe even a little angry because they think a stranger is secretly recording them.
Most gadgets isolate you from the world around you, but Google Glass can extend outwardly. It can capture images and broadcast your whereabouts. Some establishments made a preemptive strike, saying they won’t allow Google Glass on their premises. People tend to take invasion of privacy seriously in this country.
Are We Nearing Gadget Fatigue?
Gadget failures are not just because of a dumb idea. I also think we are getting tired of gadgets thrown in our faces all the time—or, in the case of Google Glass, on our faces. So I’m bracing for a tech gadget backlash.
More and more, gadgets are viewed as a societal ill that needs to be stopped, or at least controlled in some way. We’re already seeing the signs. There are studies on smartphone addiction, an extension of the presciently called CrackBerry syndrome. Companies blacklist Facebook and Angry Birds from an employee’s mobile device because it leads to lower worker productivity.
Then there’s the short story of the cellphone earpiece. I remember when hordes of people used to walk down Market Street in San Francisco with a plastic thingy sticking out of their ear while seemingly talking to themselves like some crazy person, but I don’t see that nearly as often now.
Recently, I wrote about the loneliness of today’s mobile culture that included a video from My Science Academy showing a young woman making her way through the day surrounded by people on their phones. It’s good enough to warrant a second viewing.
The most surprising part about this video is that it’s full of Millennials, the tech-loving 20-somethings who supposedly can’t live without their gadgets. This video is aimed at them, and Millennials have told me that they can relate to it and find the mobile culture somewhat tragic.
This reminds me of a 2011 Toyota Venza car commercial that shows parents going places while their daughter spends time on Facebook. The commercial amusingly raises the question: What is living? Clearly, people are starting to re-think how technology impacts our culture.
Return of Silicon Valley
Earlier this week, San Francisco Bay Area commuters awoke to a new Bay Bridge. Built to stand a hundred years and withstand powerful earthquakes, the bridge boasts an iconic white tower and a special road for eco-friendly bicyclists. It’s a true marvel of workmanship with an eye on longevity and the future.
Just weeks before the Bay Bridge opening, Elon Musk captured a bit of the old Silicon Valley spirit when he talked about his Hyperloop project, a proposed transit system for whisking passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 35 minutes via an underground tube.
It would be an amazing technological feat intended for the sole purpose of enabling more face time among people—not the iPhone’s version of FaceTime.
This is the stuff Silicon Valley was known for, a place of powerful ideas and world-class technology. Silicon Valley companies have built software that runs billion-dollar companies and entire industries. They have revolutionized movie-making and inspired digital artists. Like a modern-day Prometheus, they defied conventional thinking and gave computing power to the masses.
Will tech companies return to those days of wonder and amazement? I hope so. Maybe Silicon Valley, too, is getting a little tired of churning out useless gadgets.
Tom Kaneshige has been covering business and technology in Silicon Valley for two decades. As senior online writer at CIO.com, Tom covers Silicon Valley culture, BYOD and consumer tech in the enterprise.