Category Archives: technology

Golden revenue opportunity: Enable vacationers to take time off from digital living

Many of us, when we go on vacation, move our bodies from place to place, but our attention remains as attached as ever to the devices that connect us to our social networks, news, email, and work-related online resources. We become traveling digital ghosts, much like the walking ghosts who are so absorbed by their smartphones that they stroll straight into traffic accidents. Digital ghosts can be everywhere in what we used to call cyberspace, but they are really nowhere in conventional reality. Or at least, they’re not aware of being in the older world. They may have lots of digital fun, but find it hard to relax. Vacation stresses them out, because the risk of being disconnected from digital life is much higher than when one is at work and in high-bandwidth environments. They return fatigued and grouchy, but quickly forget about this when they are once again completely connected and distracted. After years of this, the mind crumbles, the body screams for relief, the family moves on, and the dog goes for a lonely walk.

Help is on the way, however. In the next few years, hotels, resorts, timeshares, and travel agencies will offer a new type of travel. It’s a little like joining a nudist camp, only digitally. Your vacation service provider (VSP) will make it possible for you to take a complete break from your demanding digital life—and nobody will need to know! To your followers and all the world online, you will be as clever and connected as always. Maybe even more so. If your VSP’s digital concierge knows what she’s doing, she will keep up your Twitter stream, Facebook updates, LinkedIn status, photo and video shares, and other online presences with the brilliance you wish you could maintain all the time.

If you want to go a step further, you can park your smartphone, laptop, and other devices with your VSP for baby-sitting while you enjoy time off in the old world. Of course, the VSP will contact you if there’s an emergency, unless you paid her not to do so. If you are miserable in digital withdrawal, you can book a session with the concierge to review your postings and get the highlights of what’s new with your followers and friends. If you lose your job during your vacation and your boss tells you so through email or a Facebook message, you can at your discretion rely on the concierge to keep this news hidden from you until your non-digital off-time is over.

Bed-and-breakfast places will offer their own, homespun and charming versions of disconnected vacationing. Your children will be able to go to special offline summer camps. Once the business and civic leaders in the areas tourists flock to understand how much revenue the spending from VSPs and their out-of-touch guests can generate, they will do what they can to support the business. You can expect entire districts of Rome, Paris, or Barcelona to go non-digital for entire weekends during tourist season to enhance their visitors’ experiences.

Mt. Angel Abbey in Oregon and other monasteries offer you a retreat from your digitally demanding life. But VSPs will catch up with the opportunity soon.

Some of us feel shy to admit our desire for disconnection. Others are already signing off at times. Monasteries are leading the way for VSPs by offering retreats where you can take a break from the digital avalanche of your day-to-day life. The Monastery of Christ in the Desert (which, years ago, thrilled the world with one of the coolest and most beautiful websites ever) will gladly welcome you. So would Mt. Angel Abbey in Oregon. At the Society of Saint John the Evangelist in Cambridge, you can even stay close to an urban environment. The level of tolerance and generosity in these places is very high—you don’t have to be a believer. Other monastic and faith communities are no doubt offering similar opportunities and will increase their capacity soon. They should really patent and copyright their offerings today, before VSPs catch on.

In the beginning, VSPs will be able to charge a premium for taking their guests’ lives offline. If you’re interested, you should get into this line of service right now. Eventually, digital ghosts from all walks of life will be able to disconnect a least for a few days. But don’t worry, some travelers will always pay for valuable services, such as a complete mental download of all the memories of an exciting trip—without having to go anywhere at all. That, too, is coming.

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Spontaneity and sharing vs. control and dominance: Project Glass, augmented reality, and where we’re headed

In his recent Disruptions column about Google’s Project Glass, Nick Bilton from the New York Times points out the potential of this technology in getting out of the way of real, shared experience. Sergey Brin, Google co-founder, and the verbiage used on a Google page about Project Glass also use the same expression. Project Glass involves a display unit that is mounted on a frame that resembles conventional glasses. By means of this apparatus, wearers can record images and events, then transmit and share them through the cloud, or view data related to the people, artifacts, buildings, or natural phenomena they see.

Bilton enthuses about the potential role of the technology in story-telling. Without a person having to hold a camera, the capture of events or scenes can be more immediate. In some cases it will be possible when it would not have been without the technology. The video of sky divers on the Google site illustrates nicely what this might look like. So does the video of the mother and her baby, which also points in a very different direction. If Project Glass succeeds in making the devices very small, they may not necessarily be affordable, but they can be pervasive. Almost anybody will be able to record almost anything, in almost any situation, and transmit it anywhere. Intimate statements and moments might or might not be so. In addition to happy families and people capturing special experiences, benevolent and malevolent researchers and spies will enjoy a new level of visibility. Or invisibility, if you like. The smaller the devices become, the more regulation and legal action we will see in relation to them. Some people, authorities, and countries will find ways to control the technology, punishing the users and usages they object to.

Consider the augmented-reality aspect of Project Glass,

Sharing of an experience with Google’s Project Glass… (photo copyright 2012 Google)

the ability to overlay the ordinary visual reality with contextual information that tells you what you might not be able to see—the layout of a building, the dimensions of a tumor, the capability of a weapon, the components of a material, the manufacturers and costs of a certain item in your warehouse. How will this play out when people receive training?  Will some of them receive less training than they would today, because the device they wear can to a degree make up for a lack of education? What would it mean for the military and first responders working in dramatic, threatening situations where the right kind of information might make it possible to make the right decision in a life-and-death situation? Less dramatically, how will this technology help travelers find their way, speak the right word in a foreign language, and understand their surroundings? Or will it add yet another barrier to their experience, much like the DK Eyewitness Travel guides many people hold in front of their faces as they ostensibly find themselves in an interesting locale far from home? Where are they really, and where will they be then?

The U.S. military is already exploring what AR can help it accomplish. Private enterprises will find many applications for it, especially if an entity like Google popularizes the concepts and technologies behind it. There are two movements at play here: the spontaneity and immediacy in the recording and sharing with Project Glass. And the data-driven task and decision support, control, and ability to overcome the merely natural that AR makes possible. In the coming years, we will watch the potential of both tendencies unfold.

…vs. AR and an increased ability to control, decide, and take action.

As a writer and content person, I can see that story tellers might be able to tell more direct, involving, emotionally powerful stories with something like Project Glass. I can also see that some story-telling might disappear and that sharing of actual experience might take its place instead.

With Project Glass, as the enthusiasts say, technology might get out of the way. At the same time, it becomes the way. It is both the vehicle and the journey we go through as our sense of self changes. For today, I choose to hope that the immediacy of the shared experience will help us to be more empathetic, compassionate, and involved with the people and animals with whom we share the world.

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