Google Glass and choice reduction

Lest I come off as too negative about Google Glass, it is actually just that I’m excited about all the possibilities of the technology.  Good and bad, it is a breakthrough that can move us closer to the decision point for so many human behaviors and one that opens up a world of possibility.

This is in part because people tend to discount inhibiting forces and the true downward pressure that taking out a cell phone represents.  People are always trying to sell me on shopping and price scanning apps, for example, with the line “why wouldn’t people do it?  It saves them money!”  They never believe me when I say “Because essentially no one is going to take their phone out in the store and carry it around, scanning prices, unless it saves them literally thousands of dollars”.

But I digress.  Anyone that knows my work knows that I spend a lot of time looking at the reduction of information to avoid choice overload, and one of the most interesting things about Glass for me is not just the ability to add information, but also to subtract it.  Imagine, for example, that you’re trying to lose weight and I can make Google Glasses actually filter out all sorts of food triggers.  When you look at a McDonald’s sign, all you see is a blank red canvas.  The cookie aisle literally gets all blurry.

Or how about a less extreme example, one that won’t piss off the corporate overlords at Mickey D’s.  Imagine you looked at a menu and all of the menu items that you wouldn’t like were blurred out.  A simple recommendation API, a little character recognition, and presto: instead of choosing from 100 things at a diner, you’re choosing from the 5 that you might actually want.

All the standard choice reduction arguments apply: “it restricts freedom and diversity and etc”.  Those are still entirely valid but the fact is, it doesn’t really matter if we philosophically agree on the value of choice reduction: if it is good for people and is going to make them happier (and even if it isn’t), it will happen.  Which goes back to the earlier post about how our brains aren’t adapted for this stuff yet.  It doesn’t really matter that there will be some negative outcomes, in that none of those are serious enough to prevent the technology from catching on.  The question is not whether it will come, but rather when it comes, what can we do to make it appeal to the better angels of our nature.

Like choice reduction.  Like information recall.  Like the ability to envision a better world.  One of the great things about Google Glass for me is just the ability to sit around and brainstorm about the possible things one could do with it (it will completely change how we do education, for example).  Along with Microsoft’s Kinect platform, it is by far the most exciting technology for behavior change in years.