Augmented Reality: “Yo, Heads Up!”


“Erm, hello? I’m up here.”

I spent yesterday at xPotomac – thank you, Shonali Burke, for telling me about it! – where there was a lot to love. I made new friends, I learned a ton, (I didn’t get lost – yay!), but the part I loved the most was easily the discussion on augmented reality. AKA Google Glasses, “wearable computing,” and similar devices. I’m going to thumbnail it here because there was just SO much ground covered between presentation, lightning round, and post-chat into lunch. But basically, a lot of us are ready to look up from our devices, we’re ready to stop looking like we’re metal detectors, we’re ready interact with each other rather than to each other.

Now on the one hand, I’m with @mattrobs who tweeted that they’re like “the segway for your face,” an um, dorky, solution in search of a problem. But that’s probably been said about nearly every technological device we now use widely – credit cards and the iPad come to mind. Things we never knew we needed, and can’t possibly live without.


Courtesy of Fancy Oatmeal

Okay yes, you can live without credit cards, ianythings, and the phone – but if you do, your experience, access, and enjoyment of many things are probably quite different from your fellow man’s at this point. And really, if you have no such convenience in your pocket, you are probably the staunch outlier who would also do really well off-the-grid when the need arises …. more on that later.

So, if we stipulate that Google Glasses, or similar devices that allow us to look up, are just a matter of time, here’s my really quick and dirty upshot:

Writing matters again. The days of talking to or at people are over. You need to learn to talk WITH people, because information, marketing, advertising, and outreach will be a more, “listening and looking as you walk about” experience. Yes, the “with” part has been true of social media from the start. It’s a conversation, not a dialogue or a broadcast from on high. But in a world where people will have even more ways to avoid your ads (which the room has decided are all but irrelevant – although I disagree, old gods, despite @dinodogan‘s incredibly compelling presentation, do not die that quick – how else to explain things like AVEs and landlines* still in use?), your ability to communicate with people efficiently, elegantly, and quickly will be crucial.


Wish I’d taken a basic “storyboarding 101” class in college.

Storytelling is key in an increasingly auditory out-and-about experience where you’re – there it is again – talking to people rather than writing up a blog post that they’ll read … maybe. I’m suddenly very grateful for my years in radio where I learned to tell a story, where I learned to use descriptive language in the absence of a visual. Radio, as the snidery goes, may be for ugly people. But it’s always required that you be really bright enough to finesse the situation, precisely because dead air can’t be covered up by b-roll of pretty people. Amazing how the future requires that we go back to old media – writing, storytelling, radio arts – and just do them better. (Actually, not to any of us who ever worked in radio, but I digress…) By the way, this assumes you have no visual skills and can’t storyboard, which will be just as important if not more. (I can’t draw a straight line. Therefore, I stick to words in any medium that will have them.)

Context matters. It already does, but it will matter even more. Geoff Livingston had a great example – what if you’re a dad and you go to MetLife Stadium where Google Glasses tells you “Hey, there’s Snoopy!” because your kid loves the beagle? That’s great! If your kid is with you. If not? it’s just annoying. And that’s important for those of us who do hold on to our last vestiges of privacy and do not advertise if our child is with us or not. Heck, some of us don’t advertise that we have kids at all! So where does that leave marketers, content creators, or us as consumers who might want to know about what’s out there but have no desire to give away what makes content important to us? All the more reason that context is going to matter. In the absence of what I call “permission savvy,” either we’ll have none and be bombarded with everything because we’re an unpegged target, or we’ll be like Facebook users who protest every change but have yet to leave and just learn to adapt. (Yes, this raises the idea of permissions and privacy – which as Jane Quigley mentioned, “matters to us only because we grew up with it,” unlike digital natives who’re growing up on Snapchat and Vine, and the promise of hypothetically temporary web presence – but really, that’s a whole other subject. One thing at a time, please!)

Sheeple! Don’t be one. As much as humanly possible. The fact is, none of this happens without our being sheeple and simply trading our convenience for the web’s corporate data mining. See that note above about privacy? It may be dead. But it’s still up to you to decide how much of your life you’re putting up there in exchange for the convenience of easily partaking what the market around you has to offer. One attendee very succinctly mentioned what troubles me most about this whole future world of augmented reality, “I worry that it makes us stupid.” Because the machines do all the thinking, processing, and decision making for us. Well and good for those of us who can always remember where we start, where the machines end, and when the decisions made for us are more about corporate advantage than our well-being. (Dear incredibly smart person who said what I was thinking, especially as a parent, please let me know who you are and I’d be happy to identify you!)

Beautiful Loudness

“What now?”

“Up to eleven.” And now, unrelated to anything else, a moment of deep empathy and sympathy for the lovely, understated Patrick Ashamalla, who suspects that designers will get requests to “make the logo louder.” Le sigh, le slump….

So, what now?

If I had to trendcast, I think it’s a good bet that the hot careers of the future will include survivalist trainers (the better to enable us crazy privacy nuts to live entirely off-the-grid) and optometry. As in, you’ll take your kids to the doctor for well-visits, and in addition to braces they’ll also tell you to budget for serious eye bills, given how we’re going to be bombarded with visual stimuli. I get a headache just thinking of it.

There will also be a great market for “blinders,” the kind you can put on the glasses so they quit recording, a la the basket that greets your smartphones outside government meeting secure rooms. To quote a friend who generally keeps a low profile, there will also be a market “for blinders to interfere with cameras that want to record your face any time you walk through a public space.”

I see you

Digital natives will make eye-contact if we set the example, look up, and retain manners.

Manners matter – hello Lady Grantham! So I really think that there’s a future for finishing school in the age of digital everything. As in, “how to comport yourself properly while wearing your wearable computer” and “how to continue scanning the room while paying full attention to the person in front of you.” To which I will just say, “make eye contact.” You know, like we do now with people with whom we’re trying to put our best foot forward, who don’t live online like us. Like when we go to sunday dinner with the family and we put away our devices. Like when we tell our kids to please put down what their doing and look us in the eye while we tell them something important. Like when we tell our kids to mind their manners, look people in the eye, and greet them politely.

Last but not least, I’d like to point out that I largely wrote notes for this post long hand , because although it was a digital strategy conference where I’d have tweeted everything (indeed, I tweeted much of the morning), the wifi crapped out for the AR session. So I old-schooled it, and looked up. Ironic much?

* P.S. I still have a landline. Why? Because I live in a neighborhood with overhead lines. It’s always a matter of time before we lose power in bad weather.  I have two sets of neighbors who are elderly. Guess what, the landline is what I’ll use to call 911 if I need. Because you can only power up the mobile for so long. And if we’re snowed in, I may not actually have the time and ability to get in the car to a) turn it on and b) hook it up to recharge. And that would be why the landline god lives in my house.