In just about every James Bond and Batman film, there is a segment where Q (or Morgan Freeman) introduces us to a few new gadgets. At first, the hero looks over the objects quizzically, but then the handler demonstrates how to use them, unlocking their mystery and inviting both the hero and the audience to imagine how the tool might become integral to the story about to unfold.
If you're a tech junkie like me, you might have noticed that Google is attempting to become our own personal Q in its efforts to promote Glass, the futuristic/super-nerdy looking eyewear that present a user with a heads up display and an always-on camera.
Just like Q, they first showed us the strange-looking device (pictures of impossibly good-looking people wearing the hideously unfashionable glasses), then they demonstrated a few basic uses (queue the demo video with spunky music below), and finally – and most importantly – they created a social media campaign inviting people to use the hashtag #IfIHadGlass and imagine how Google Glass might become integral in the story of their life.
Google recognises that the success of Glass has very little to do with how many features it has, and everything to do with embedding the product in our collective imagination. They know that if you want to get the entire world to buy something that no one is asking for, you can't start with specs, you have to start with story.
Before people buy things, they have to "see themselves" with the product. For example, if you try on a new cardigan and you look ridiculous, you probably won't buy it. But if the mirror reflects a more awesome you, then you'll probably bring it home. With technology, we too need to "see ourselves" using the device, and the image we create in our minds needs to show us overcoming some obstacle that would be difficult without the gadget. Without that story in place, we'll never feel compelled to buy.
The problem for Google is that when we first look at Glass, we're not quite sure what the "outcome" is or how Glass gets us there. My life seems fine, we say, why would I want to look like a cheesy character from Argo?
Google is saying, "Yes, yes. Ask that question. Ask it again and again and again, until you find the answer. Once you do, you'll love it."
If we try to imagine what it will be like to use Google Glass, and we can't come up with anything, Google loses big time. But if they can coax us to keep imagining and keep trying to tell and hear better #IfIHadGlass stories, then one day the once strange product will become a normal, unquestioned part of our larger cultural myth and we'll consider it as necessary as a microwave or mobile phone.
There is nothing particularly troubling about all this. But as always there is a danger lying around the corner, and that when we spend a lot of time focusing on what the product can do for us, we sometimes allow the product to takes over the story we were originally trying to tell. Instead of using Glass toward some larger pursuit, the acquisition and use of Glass becomes the outcome.
We've probably all caught ourselves doing this on occasional. For example, we all bought cameraphones to remember those great moments in life, but then we found out that sometimes the goal of "capturing the moment" gets in the way of the moment itself. Or imagine a priest who wants to tell people about the surpassing beauty of Jesus, but then becomes enamoured with bigger and bigger screens and more and more downloads.
The goal of this post is not, of course, to bash on cameraphones, podcasts, or Glass, but to give us the chance to rethink on the place of technology in our lives and in the stories we are trying to tell with our lives.
What is the true outcome toward which we are striving? Do our tools help us overcome conflict to get to that goal, or somewhere along the way did acquiring new toys become a chief pursuit?
John Dyer (http://j.hn/) is a web developer and technology writer in Dallas, TX. He is the author of From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology and currently serves as the Executive Director of Communications and Online Seminary Education at Dallas Theological Seminary.